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Roseburg to pay for new homeless coordinator

The city of Roseburg will pay $140,000 to hire a homeless coordinator for two years, in its continuing efforts to provide a shelter and services for the unhoused.

The Roseburg City Council approved the expenditure during its meeting Monday evening. The coordinator will assist the work of the Homeless Transition Action Group, or HTAG, which is taking a leading role in bringing together the various groups who are providing services to the homeless community. Aviva Health will oversee the new coordinator position, handling the hiring process and providing supervision, office space and supplies for the new hire.

The $140,000 from the city will cover salary and benefits for two years.

During a meeting of the Roseburg Homeless Commission Monday morning, Wayne Ellsworth, homeless outreach coordinator for South River Community Health Center and chair of HTAG, said the new position will help coordinate the efforts of agencies working with the homeless and give those agencies a stronger voice in those efforts.

“It would be something that would greatly benefit this community,” Ellsworth said in a document he had prepared for the meeting.

The new HTAG coordinator will also seek out funding opportunities to help pay for services for the homeless. The new position is considered key in helping the city get a shelter program with services, also known as a navigation center, up and running by next July. That’s the deadline for a $1.5 million state grant the city was awarded to pay for the navigation center. If the deadline is not met the city may have to return the grant.

HTAG has been around more than seven years but never incorporated and does not have any staff, a building or funding. The group is made up of representatives from many frontline agencies that conduct frequent outreach efforts in the homeless community, providing food, tents, clothing, counseling and other vital items to those they serve.

HTAG emerged in the last several months as a group that could help with the navigation center, as well as an emergency shelter during inclement weather, something the community currently does not have. Ellsworth said HTAG is putting together a proposal to present to the group that manages the fairgrounds to see if a warming center could be set up there.

He also said the current approach to the homeless has made it difficult to coordinate services and has often been counter-productive.

“People are being moved every day. The folks on the streets don’t know what to do and the supportive organizations are having a harder time coordinating efforts to offer their services,” he said in his presentation to the Homeless Commission. “Until we get the city or the county to let us have a place where folks can be, we are going to continue to throw away expensive items and time.

“It’s the reality going forward until we figure this out. It’s a full community partnership. Until we collectively crack this, we will continue to do the same things.”

A LONG ROADCity councilors Monday evening applauded the work of HTAG and the creation of the coordinator position.

Councilor Brian Prawitz said he was involved in the founding of HTAG and is happy to see the group grow in its role.

“This is a very significant moment for them and I think it gives their organization structure and credibility,” he said. “It’s great to see HTAG develop to a point where we’re talking about them like this tonight.”

Councilor Andrea Zielinski echoed those sentiments.

“This is super exciting,” she said. “HTAG has been amazing for our community. They’re really the boots-on-the-ground people that are helping the unhoused.”

The new coordinator position could be filled quickly. Christin Rutledge, vice president of community health at Aviva, said she is ready to post the opening immediately and hopes to have it filled before the holiday season.

“We’re ready,” she said. “I’m very excited.”

There is still much work to be done to get the navigation center off the ground.

About two weeks ago, city officials learned not one agency had responded to manage the navigation center. City Manager Nikki Messenger said the city will continue to look for an agency to fill that role, and may forego the competitive bid process since the last attempt yielded no proposals.

Efforts to secure a location for the navigation center have also proven to be a challenge. City officials have looked at a handful of sites but nothing has been locked down yet.

“There’s not a ton available, so it’s been a little bit challenging,” Messenger said of the search.

With so much to get done and the July 1 deadline looming, Messenger cautioned that whatever shelter the city creates by then may not be the final product.

“There’s a huge chance that we’re going to end up being in a lease situation initially,” she said. That would mean approaching the navigation center in phases, and possibly using an initial location for a year or so before moving to a more permanent location, she said.

In related news, Gregory Bingham, CEO of Adapt and Homeless Commission member, gave an update on the sobering center, which opened in mid-August. In the two-month period following its opening, the center has served 39 people, 22 of whom were from Roseburg.

“Word is getting out and people are getting engaged,” Bingham said of the center, which is located east of downtown on Diamond Lake Boulevard.

Bingham also said Adapt recently purchased the former Travel Inn Motel, located at 1627 SE Stephens St., to be used as transitional housing for individuals dealing with substance abuse issues. The property, which has 12 units and a total of 19 beds, is in the process of being renovated. The transitional housing program should be operational next month, Bingham said.

An escape from reality: family fun center in Sutherlin thinking big

SUTHERLIN — A family of five enters a room. There is no way out, other than to solve a series of riddles.

Mom, dad and their three children have to put their heads together, try different theories until they ultimately find the right answer. The quest continues, until the family ultimately solves the final riddle and finds their way out of the “Escape Room.”

That was the goal of Drew and Casey Snow, who recently started Epic Escape PNW, located at 861 W. Central Ave. in Sutherlin.

“We see these families coming in, just watching them coming in and connecting on a different level has been so inspiring to us,” Drew Snow said. “There are a lot of families under a lot of stress right now, whether it’s COVID stress or workplace stress.”

Currently, Epic Escape PNW is operating its escape and espionage rooms, as well as a haunted house on the 5,500-square-foot property.

There is also a smash room, where people can spend a few bucks to just break stuff.

“It’s therapy. That’s the whole goal,” Drew Snow said. “Mental health matters, and people are drained.”

Among the three escape rooms and the espionage room, there is a strict no-cell policy. Phones are left outside with the intention of helping teammates better connect with each other on their quest to solve their puzzle.

“We want them to have that disconnect,” Drew said. “It’s an adventure. When you’re taking your ‘framily’ (friends and/or family) on this adventure, every time you solve a puzzle, that’s a micro-goal. That actually helps enhance and elevate mental health.

“Just watching these families coming in and connecting on a different level has been so inspiring to us,” he said.

In the espionage room, your crew is a team of special operatives who have intentionally been arrested, knowing that your particular jail cell is adjacent to a nuclear rocket lab.

“Your goal is to break into that lab and recover the nuclear codes to save the world from going into chaos,” Snow said.

The Snows have certainly had a little help from their friends. With so much space available, a haunted house was designed with the help of “some friends who are really good at what they do.”

Epic Escape PNW also offers a video arcade with a “grades for games” promotion, where students who maintain good grades can play for free.

The escape and espionage rooms are open between 7-10 p.m. by appointment only. Epic Escape PNW also has space for birthdays and corporate events. After the Halloween season, the Snows are planning to add a miniature golf course.

“We needed something local,” Drew Snow said of the family fun center. “Something that gives you a mind break.”

Rates for the escape and espionage rooms are $30 per person for a 60-minute session and $20 per person for 30 minutes. A tour of the haunted house is $10 per person.

For more information about Epic Escape PNW or to make an appointment, call 801-860-4052 or visit their Facebook page by searching Epic Escape PNW.

Roseburg rental company sued for alleged workers' comp violations

A former employee of a Roseburg equipment rental business has filed a complaint against the company after he said his bosses wrote him up and then fired him because he filed a workers’ compensation claim against their wishes.

Russell Aliff filed the complaint alleging unlawful employment practices and workers compensation discrimination against United Rentals, Inc. on Oct. 8 in Douglas County Circuit Court. Aliff is represented by Portland attorney Marc Schworm.

United Rentals, Inc. is a chain with more than 1,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada. The Roseburg location where Aliff worked is located at 2661 NE Stephens St.

According to the complaint, on Jan. 6, 2021, Aliff sustained an injury to his leg and knee at work when he slipped off the step of a trailer. Due to the severity of his injuries, Aliff told his manager, Amitpal Bains, that he needed to seek medical attention and file a workers’ compensation claim.

Aliff was called into a meeting with Bains and Daniel Buckley, a regional manager, and told not to file a workers’ compensation claim. These managers suggested that Aliff not seek medical attention, and that he give his injuries time to heal on their own.

After a few weeks without improvement, Aliff sought the care of a physician and filed a workers’ compensation claim. In February 2021, an MRI revealed that Aliff had a torn calf muscle and deep bone bruise. Aliff’s doctor put him on light duty through March 10, 2021.

Near the end of January 2021, Bains reportedly called the medical clinic where Aliff was being treated and falsely told the workers’ compensation coordinator that Aliff changed his mind about filing a claim, and that Aliff was going to utilize his own private health insurance, the complaint said.

After that, according to the complaint, Bains began engaging in conduct designed to intimidate and retaliate against Aliff for filing a workers compensation claim, including:

Pressuring Aliff to get “released” from care, suggesting that he talk to his doctor about getting released to go back to work early.

Berating Aliff, stating: “want to know how much money you cost this company? $55,000.00” in reference to the alleged amounts of Aliff’s workers’ compensation claim cost.

Pressuring Aliff to perform work tasks that he was not medically cleared to perform.

After Aliff was released from light duty, in a meeting with Bains and Buckley, Buckley reprimanded Aliff for getting injured at work, saying it “can’t happen and won’t happen again,” and stated again how much time and money Aliff’s claim had cost the company, according to the complaint.

Soon after Aliff was released from light duty in March, Bains began to admonish him for perceived safety violations. Supervisors and managers at United Rentals had a practice of “selectively writing up employees for safety violations only when it suited their needs, often ignoring safety violations (even severe violations),” the complaint said.

Aliff only began to be reprimanded and written up for alleged safety violations when he returned to work after being injured — prior to that he had never been written up for a safety violation, the complaint said.

“These supposed safety violations were a pretext to terminate Plaintiff’s employment for cause in retaliation for Plaintiff having filed a workers compensation claim,” the complaint said.

On April 14, 2021, United Rentals terminated Aliff. United Rentals discriminated against Aliff because he filed a workers’ compensation claim and then terminated him for the same reason, both in violation of Oregon statutes, the complaint said.

As a direct result of United Rentals’ “unlawful employment actions,” Aliff sustained “wage loss (past and future), humiliation, emotional stress, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life,” the complaint said.

He is seeking $49,999 as compensation for his back pay, front pay, and compensatory damages, and attorney fees.

When reached by phone this week, Bains declined to comment and referred the matter to lawyers for the company.

Jennifer Goldman, a lawyer for United Rentals, Inc., also declined to comment on the complaint, citing pending litigation.

“Safety is a very important aspect of our company culture and we look forward to resolving this matter shortly,” Goldman said.