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One-stop shop for homeless services takes shape

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Kelly Shelter residents are shown in the current Sixth Street location. Under a plan presented to the Medford City Council, the shelter could be on the move.

Rogue Retreat could become the operator of a massive one-stop shop to deal with emergency housing for the homeless.

Medford City Council signaled its support Thursday to continue looking at Rogue Retreat moving its existing 50-plus bed Kelly Shelter in the downtown over to a proposed homeless navigation center off Biddle Road at 685 and 691 Market St.

The bed capacity would gradually be ramped up to 125 beds. Rogue Retreat also operates the urban campground in north Medford off Biddle Road, as well as Hope Village, a collection of tiny houses for the homeless on McAndrews Avenue.

Under the proposal, the existing Kelly Shelter on Sixth Street would be converted into a permanent location for a winter shelter, which is now operated out of the Medford Senior Center and the library. Between the navigation center and the changed use of the Kelly Shelter, more than 100 additional beds would become available for homeless people.

But the council expressed concern about how the ongoing operational costs of about $200,000 a month at the navigation center would be covered and about providing one critical component to dealing with homelessness: mental health.

“We need to have that as part of this navigation center,” Councilor Eric Stark said.

Councilor Sarah Spansail said she would like to see more services offered at the navigation center beyond what’s currently provided at multiple other locations.

“Are we getting a larger space with the same services?” she wondered.

The new building would be designed to offer spaces to segregate people who are having mental health crises and allow them time to cool off.

Many local organizations that deal with mental health issues say that at some point in the future they could develop a plan to offer more mental health services at the navigation center.

While Rogue Retreat would be the operator, other organizations such as ACCESS and the Maslow Project are expected to pitch in to help run the facility.

Under the current proposal, the building could be purchased for $1.9 million, but it needs $2 million in improvements. The sale could be finalized before the end of the year.

A $2.5 million state grant will provide the money to buy the building, but a funding gap of $1.4 million needs to be overcome to install a sprinkler system, restrooms, showers, laundry, a heating and air conditioning system and other improvements.

A 9,025-square-foot warehouse would allow for up to 125 beds, including space for pets. Another 1,407 square feet is located in a mezzanine area, while 7,551 square feet would be for offices and meetings.

A building next door offers an additional 1,536 square feet.

Councilor Kevin Stine said his biggest fear is that there won’t be sufficient money available to pay for the operating costs of the navigation center.

“Is there going to be a bigger ask down the line from city coffers?” he asked.

City Manager Brian Sjothun said the city plans to advocate for sustainable funding from the Legislature during the short session this winter.

He said seven cities in Oregon are receiving state money to help open navigation centers.

The city plans to communicate with Jackson County to see what it would take to establish mental health services at the navigation center.

The center would have the ability to prepare meals on or off site, provide storage, laundry facilities and addiction counseling.

In addition, the center would offer recreational facilities for children and pets, as well as a community justice court.

Homeless people currently go to several locations to deal with addiction, mental health or other problems, but the goal of the navigation center would be to offer these services under one roof along with case managers.

Local homeless advocates say it’s important to provide a variety of services as quickly as possible to rapidly transition people away from a life on the streets.

The navigation center, which would operate year round, is scheduled to be operational by July 1, 2022.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.