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.