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Shelter from the storm: Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice sets up small shelter near courthouse for homeless

Tucked away in the corner of the Fowler Street parking lot across from the Roseburg Public Library and the Douglas County Courthouse, the county has put up a metal carport structure, a picnic table and a portable bathroom.

Inside this small homeless shelter, it’s dry and warmer than the street. People come and go, but between five and eight are usually there.

The day after the structure went up in late September, Martin Solinger and Richard Jones put up some leftover carpet they got from a local carpet store to cover the gravel ground.

Solinger and Jones are homeless, and until the shelter was put up were spending nights at the Douglas County Courthouse.

Now they have a place to be, as do other homeless Roseburg residents who used to frequent the courthouse.

Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice said he had the structure put up because some county workers complained about homeless people sleeping on the courthouse campus.

Some were worried about safety, while others objected to having to clean up after some of the campers there defecated on the premises.

Boice said since the structure was set up, those problems have disappeared.

He considers it a pilot project. He’s also proposed creating a larger camp to shelter between 70 and 100 people that could be located on Diamond Lake Boulevard.

So far, he said, the smaller shelter on Fowler Street is working.

“We’ve had success,” he said. “Obviously we haven’t had to clean up any feces on the campus since it’s been set up. We haven’t had any transients on the campus really to speak of since it’s been set up. The folks that are there have been appreciative, respectful and kind and willing to help police other bad activities that happened in that parking lot, and to keep the garbage and stuff cleaned up in the parking lot and the restroom clean and usable.”

Boice said no one shelter can solve the entire homeless problem. The key is to give them something they value, and he also said he’s let them know they need to maintain the facility if they want to keep it.

The shelter cost $1,669, and Boice said it might be useful to have more of them in other spots where the homeless are currently gathering.

However Denny Miller, who owns the Central Trailer Park next door, said he opposes the shelter and nobody spoke with him about plans to put the shelter next to his business. He said there's been noise and fighting in the shelter that's bad for his business.

"You give them a place to congregate, that's what happens," he said.

Miller said the park he runs is itself part of the solution to the homeless crisis, as many of the people in it can't afford to live in a house but can afford to live in a camper.

Solinger and Jones are campmates. They said they watch out for each other and for each other’s stuff.

Jones has been homeless for a year and four months. He battled his way back from addiction and has a construction job now, after being out of work for about eight years. He just needs a home he can afford, he said.

Solinger has been homeless for eight years. He said he became depressed after he lost custody of his kids, who are now grown. He said he moved to Roseburg from Coos Bay a year ago because it’s warmer here. He’s trying to find work, so he needs to be downtown.

Neither can stay in the Roseburg Rescue Mission. Jones said he was kicked out because he reached the year-long limit for staying there. Solinger said he hurt his back working in the mission’s secondhand store and was kicked out for not working.

Both said they love the new shelter.

“I think it is beautiful. This is grand. If it wasn’t for this I’d be laying out in the rain,” Solinger said.

They said the main problem they’ve been having is with Roseburg police, who have given them multiple tickets for falling asleep in the shelter. At $250 a ticket, the fines run up fast. Solinger said he owes $1,000 already.

Solinger said he’s got to do it somewhere. He has no home to sleep in.

“I just want to get back on my feet and get my life started back on track again,” he said.

Roseburg Public Schools below state average, according to Oregon Department of Education

Roseburg Public Schools’ education is below the state average in kindergarten through second grade attendance, third grade English and on-time graduation, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

The department released its annual at-a-glance district profiles Thursday on data from the 2018-2019 school year.

The only category in which Roseburg exceeded the state average was eighth grade mathematics.

Individual student progress in language arts and math in third through eighth grade was listed as high on the district’s report card.

“This is what we expect to see as we adopt new instructional materials and implement new programs to focus on professional development and leadership opportunities for educators,” Superintendent Jared Cordon said in a press release.

According to the data, the girls performed better in all assessments than the boys at Roseburg. Starting this school year, all school districts will also start collecting data on non-binary students, those who don’t identify as male or female.

Roseburg was on par with the freshmen on track to graduate at 85%, but only had a 62% graduation rate compared to a statewide 79% average.

The state goal is to ensure a 90% on-time, four-year graduation rate by 2025.

Glide School District met that goal last year with a 93% on-time graduation rate. North Douglas graduated 95% of students on time and Oakland had a 97% on-time graduation rate.

Glide also exceeded the state average in freshmen on track and met the state average in attendance and third grade English. It was well below the state average of 39% in eighth grade math at 18%, which also was a 21% drop from the previous school year for Glide.

North Douglas was just below the state average in regular attendance for kindergarten through second grade and met or exceeded state averages in all other categories.

Attendance in Oakland was at 92% for kindergarten through second grade and students at the school exceeded the state average in third grade English and freshmen on track. However, the eighth grade math was below the state average.

To view the full at-a-glance district profiles, visit the Oregon Department of Education website.

Appeals court ruling blocks part of Gov. Kate Brown's vaping ban

Oregon’s Court of Appeals on Thursday put a halt to the state’s ban on flavored vaping products, two days after it took effect.

The move to halt the ban was led by Jason Weber who, along with his wife Elizabeth Amber Weber, owns two vape stores in Roseburg. Attorneys filed the appeal late Wednesday afternoon and got word of the decision Thursday.

“It was a complete legal overreach,” Jason Weber said of the ban. “It’s a huge win for us. We were all about to go out of business.”

In asking for the stay the Webers and the Vapor Technology Association, an industry trade group, argued that numerous Oregon businesses and residents would “suffer severe and irreparable harm” from the ban, “before the rule can be subjected to full judicial review.”

The temporary stay issued Thursday apparently only applies to tobacco-based vaping products, sold under the oversight of the Oregon Health Authority. It leaves the ban in place on marijuana vaping products regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Gov. Kate Brown on Oct. 4 ordered a six-month ban on flavored vape products in Oregon in response to a spread of vaping-related illnesses across the nation. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there have been nearly 1,500 illnesses and 33 deaths nationwide. Oregon has reported nine illnesses and two deaths.

“The court’s decision to enter a temporary stay today is unfortunate due to the ongoing public health threat posed by vaping-related illness,” the governor’s press secretary, Charles Boyle, said in a statement Thursday. Boyle said that absent federal regulation, Brown will work with public health organizations, state agencies and the Legislature to find a solution to vaping illnesses.

However, Jason Weber has long argued that the move to restrict flavored vaping products is misguided and will do more harm than good. Vaping should not be considered a public health concern like cigarettes, Weber said. Weber said he was a cigarette smoker for 14 years and when he wanted to quit eight years ago, vaping was the only thing that worked.

“It’s proven that vaping is the most successful thing to help adults quit smoking,” Weber told The News-Review earlier this year. “Why would they come attack us for such a little amount when we’re the best chance of making smoking not the leading preventable cause of death? My job is to help people stop smoking.”

He also points to dire tobacco smoking statistics in Douglas County to back up his support of flavored vaping products. The Oregon Health Association reports that 31.5% of adults in Douglas County are traditional smokers, for example, placing it in the top third of Oregon counties for percentage of smokers. Between 2013 and 2016, Douglas County had over 199 preventable deaths attributed to tobacco-related diseases.

In the legal appeal, the Webers argue that if Brown’s order remained in place it would “force the permanent closure of their businesses within the next two weeks.”

Their court challenge argued that Oregon regulators lack the legal standing to enforce the governor’s ban. They also argued that it would destroy Oregon’s vaping industry and prompt vapers into the black market where health risks are greater.

Elizabeth Weber, in her declaration to the Appeals Court, said that the ban would force the couple to lay off seven employees and send the Webers into “economic ruin.”

Following the court decision, Jason Weber said the couple had been given a reprieve.

“I’m so glad we can put our flavors back,” Weber said Thursday. “This is amazing. It means everything to us.”

The Oregon Health Authority put out a statement in response to the temporary stay that read in part: “OHA continues to investigate vaping-associated lung injuries and continues to urge all Oregonians who use vaping products to stop vaping immediately and take advantage of cessation resources.”

Tony Abboud, the executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, also put out a statement.

“We are very pleased with the Oregon Court of Appeals decision which preserves the ability of hundreds of small businesses to remain open and continue to serve their adult customers. ... Bans don’t work; they never have.”