Roseburg City Councilwoman Ashley Hicks is known for speaking her mind, even if it gets her in trouble. That’s what happened in late February, when the city council punished Hicks for her advocacy of a homeless shelter. The News-Review caught up with Hicks to see how things are going during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How are things going in general?
In general; uncertain. I am positive about one thing, we will overcome this pandemic. This too shall pass.
What’s the mood at City Hall?
Outside of the Friday email message from our city manger. I haven’t heard a peep from anyone; city staff nor fellow councilors or mayor. However, I imagine each of them is just as concerned as we all are. I hope everyone stays healthy.
What can the city do to help minimize the spread of COVID-19?
I believe the best thing the city and elected representatives can do is to keep communication open, clear and consistent. Continue to enforce the ordinances and respond to calls, continue with construction projects, keep well people working.
You mentioned recently your concern about the homeless, especially camps along the river. Can you talk about that?
Our unhoused population is and has always been a concern for our community. Now at this moment in history when we are being asked to stay home and stay healthy, we know there are groups of individuals sleeping under the bridges, congregating along the bike paths and in the parks, and homesteading areas along the riverbanks. Our city councilors agreed to take steps to address and lessen the impacts to and from the unhoused community, but no action has been taken, and our work study session on our council goals has been postponed until who knows when. I’m disappointed about that.
It seems to me that the homeless population is especially vulnerable to COVID-19, in terms of potentially coming down with the virus and then spreading it. Is anything being done to address that? What can be done to address that?
Some things I believe the city staff could do to help is keep public restrooms facilities open and clean — no excuses. People need to work and individuals need places to use the restroom and wash hands afterwards. Port-a-potties are not welcoming for all.
And one thing I’ve mentioned publicly, over and over, is our need for an emergency shelter. Designating a location for individuals with pets and families has been ignored. I believe when our city councilors and county commissioners decide to be the leaders our citizens hoped for and elected, we will work together and build our emergency shelter.
Only time will tell which direction we take. Ignorance is no longer blissful.
I worry about downtown Roseburg — driving through the other day it was like a ghost town. Your thoughts on that?
Our downtown survived being blown up. Downtown will still be here when this is over and the businesses will persevere and overcome this pandemic.
Just as earlier pioneers and prospectors have done in the generations before us — we’ll continue on.
Recently you were punished by the city council for advocating a homeless shelter. You had your travel privileges taken away, specifically to the Oregon League of Cities conference. Now there is more talk about the need for a shelter, no one is traveling and the LOC conference was cancelled. How ironic. Thoughts on all that?
Every time I think back on being sanctioned by fellow councilors and the mayor for advocating for an emergency shelter, it makes me smile. I’m pleased with myself for being brave enough to challenge the status quo and to speak up for those unable to.
Even in the storm of that unusual meeting I had a sense of contentment.
I knew this was one of those times when rewards outweigh the risks. Having a safe place to come in at night and a ground zero for emergency services — it’s worth it.
Just think if we’d started on it last year it would be operational now in our collective time of need.