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Shari Holzen-Phillips leaves a homeless camp on the bank of the South Umpqua River in Gaddis Park in February. She got emotional as she talked about the lack of compassion in the world.

Show empathy. Provide emergency shelter. Keep hope alive.

Those were just three of a laundry list of suggestions presented to homeless commission members Monday by a Medford nonprofit agency hired to help Roseburg address people without housing in the region.

Matthew Vorderstrasse, development director for Rogue Retreat, said his group talked to city officials and community leaders, and visited a half-dozen homeless encampments in the city, talking to more than 50 homeless individuals.

Vorderstrasse said among the homeless people he spoke to was a woman who had been living in an encampment for three days after fleeing domestic violence. Vorderstrasse said there is often a misconception that those who are homeless are lazy, which isn’t true.

“In order for them to get their feet back under them, they need access to basic amenities,” he said. “She had nowhere to go, so she packed a tent and put it in a park.”

Roseburg officials visited Rogue Retreat operations last summer and were impressed by what they saw. The program includes a step housing system that includes a camp, a shelter and a village of tiny homes. Roseburg officials hope to bring some of those services here, starting with a one-stop shelter and service center. The city appears to be in line for $1.5 million in state funding to get such a center off the ground.

The city contracted with Rogue Retreat to lend its expertise here, beginning with an assessment of what services are in place now and what is needed to help those struggling with homelessness. On Monday, Vorderstrasse and executive director Chad McComas presented their findings to a homeless commission set up by Roseburg city officials.

A partial list of what is needed to help the homeless people here, according to the two, include:

  • More housing for victims of domestic violence
  • The creation of a low barrier shelter
  • The creation of extreme weather shelters
  • The creation of a youth shelter
  • Housing for homeless Umpqua Community College students
  • Bathrooms, trash cans, showers and laundry facilities for the homeless
  • More medical outreach
  • Open pet-friendly shelters

Most important of all is to generate a sense of hope, Vorderstrasse said.

“Hope is the biggest need,” he said. “You can take all sorts of steps and never get anywhere when you are homeless. Losing hope is their biggest threat.”

Vorderstrasse and McComas also said it is going to take a unified, collaborative, integrated approach to truly help the homeless population here — what they called “collective engagement.” Currently there appears to be some vexation between various homeless advocacy groups and city officials, and some “political controversy over the right path forward,” Vorderstrasse said.

“There is a lot of hurt that is in the community and building positive relationships with each other will start the healing process,” Vorderstrasse said.

ROUGH GOINGThe Roseburg City Council has made the issue of homelessness a top priority and spent much of 2020 holding special workshops to discuss the matter and come up with plans to address it. One of those plans called for setting up the homeless commission.

The commission got off to a rough start even before its first meeting. There were complaints leveled over how its members were chosen; they were picked by Mayor Larry Rich, with no opportunity for the general public to apply or participate in the selection process.

At its first meeting in January, the commission announced that its immediate priority was setting up a warming center so homeless individuals would have somewhere to go when the temperatures dipped below freezing.

“We want to do what we can to get this warming center up and running as quickly as possible,” Rich said at the time.

But eight days later, the commission called a special meeting and declared that the push to open a warming center was off, and the focus instead would be on helping the homeless shelter in place. Commission members said they had learned that setting up a warming center would take too long and present health concerns due to COVID-19.

Other efforts to help by the city have also been ineffective.

In November, the City Council approved a pilot program allowing people to sleep in their vehicles at approved sites in the city, in what is known as vehicle camping. The program came with nearly two dozen rules and regulations, including requiring the property owner to register with the city, limit the hours of operation, provide restrooms and garbage cans and keep someone at the site overnight.

To date, not a single church or agency has applied to operate a vehicle camping site.

In December, the City Council changed the rules regulating warming centers in the hope that a church or agency would provide such a shelter. None did.

A January 2020 survey found 845 people in the county who were identified as homeless, including 183 under the age of 18. At least five homeless individuals in the area died last year, and three more homeless people were found dead in January.

“This is humanitarian work,” Vorderstrasse told the homeless commission members Monday, in stressing the need for empathy.

“These are humans.”

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15.

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(9) comments

NJ

When I read this, "The Roseburg City Council has made the issue of homelessness a top priority and spent much of 2020 holding special workshops to discuss the matter and come up with plans to address it. One of those plans called for setting up the homeless commission.", it makes me realize just how very little effort was and is still being put into solving this ongoing humanitarian issue when I read the date on this: https://www.nrtoday.com/roseburg-faces-homeless-crisis/article_81cc16aa-70b6-5ccc-9b9c-f401507808df.html -- So how long does it take, how much money is needed to be told over and over the issue exists, how much more purposeful lip service will we read about before a concrete plan is even drafted? More simply, how many more people need to die?

BetsyC

Exactly!

guest207

The fact of the matter is the only homeless advocates that seem to be actually trying to help is the dram center, and St. joes Catholic Church. The mission only hands out sandwiches, unless you live there in their slave program. To bring showers they don’t any homeless not living there to use them, now if you live in their slave program, you eat well. Even the clothes that are donated are sold, and if they don’t they sell them per pound to a third world country. They don’t give them to homeless people.So all that money all those donations except for the food donation goes right into their pocket and slave labor too.

BetsyC

Congregate shelters are not the answer. They require too much money and are not cost effective. They show no better long term results than other approaches. A shelter is not what makes a homeless service program successful.

There are better ways to help make sure people are sheltered from weather, have basic sanitation facilities and get access to all the help our community has that they need need to end homelessness. That does not require a shelter, it requires collaboration and coordination among all the taxpayer funded agencies. It also requires something Housing First Umpqua is calling Safe Ground.

If you are interested in being part of the discussion about establishing Safe Ground sites, HFU welcomes your participation in our community based discussions about how to address the problems of so many people living rough outside.

Anyone interested in being part of the solution, can contact HFU via our website or FB page.

HFU started this community based effort out of endless delays and studies that do little to end homelessness and spend a lot of taxpayer money. Safe Ground can be done for a whole lot less and can be coordinated that agencies and organizations we currently have in Douglas County.

This is the sad reality vs hopeful expectation of the new and improved shelter system now being called "navigation centers" that is being proposed for Roseburg.

We welcome anyone in the community to participate. Housing First Umpqua will also be having a virtual Town Hall in the next couple of weeks that is open to the public to come ask questions, make suggestions, etc.

I am posting this article that shows homeless shelters do not create permanent housing. Even the new and improved "navigation center" shelters do not have good success with housing people. Like Seattle, we don't have the housing we need and no system will get people permanently housed without housing.

https://www.seattlemag.com/news-and-features/only-two-people-have-found-permanent-homes-through-seattles-new-low-barrier

guest207

You know I find it amazing how these people sit here and say all the stuff they’re doing and they’re going to build a commission and all this other job well if the shelter was such a priority how can eat these later they decide not to do it I’ll tell you why because you’re scamming the system and they’re milking the government for the grants supposed to be going to homeless people that’s why, as far as a person worrying about a taxpayer dollars do you know what every single time they do road construction here I see they go over and tear apart and rebuild the same road six times and all the other ones will be touching why because of taxpayer money goes to that that’s why anyways I’m homeless have a nice day

Mike

How much taxpayer's money was spent to read a repeat of what every other homeless study has concluded in a vain attempt to find the magic solution?

Now what? How are they going to stall the inevitable? Maybe its time for another study.

garyd

Maybe the city needs a new homeless commission.

BetsyC

Maybe they need a homeless commission with folks who actual work with folks who are homeless, a member of the general public and someone who is homeless or recently has been? Not instead of the folks there, but with the folks there. Plus provide time for actual public comment so any concerned citizen can speak to them and the rest of us can hear everything.

BetsyC

Or information they have been provided over and over again by community members. Most of the RR recommendations have been told to members of the Roseburg City Council over the years. How do I know? Because others and I, who try to help folks who are homeless navigate our broken and counter productive system, have told them. For FREE!

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