Iris Chinook, IVN contributing writer
For intractable social problems, everyone wants a solution—but most people don’t want to be an active part of that solution – evidenced by recent Town Hall meetings about a homeless facility in February and Illinois Valley social media comments. Homelessness is one of those problems. It is an issue that provokes strong emotional responses. Here in the Illinois Valley those responses follow along predictable lines: There are the citizens that want to provide safe, transitional housing for our unhoused community members and there are those who feel that the unhoused need to move on to another community or magically disappear. It’s a deeply complex issue.
About four and one-half years ago, Jimmy Evans stepped up to the plate and started the Cave Junction Homeless Alliance. The nonprofit helped homeless people find immediate-need resources including sleeping bags, food and warm clothing. The group tried to find property and buildings that would help the unhoused acquire temporary shelter. Due to the frustration of not finding a location and lack of volunteer participation, CJHA disbanded but the work continued. Laura Mancuso, editor of the Illinois Valley News and founding board member of the CJ Homeless Alliance continued helping the homeless with supplies and a homeless mail service. “I am very grateful that Jimmy helped form the mission and really inspired me to get involved. CJ Homeless Alliance has morphed into the 501(c)3 nonprofit Illinois Valley Living Solutions, which has formed a steering committee to oversee the plans for a transitional housing facility for the homeless. Currently, I am the president of I.V. Living Solutions,” said Mancuso.
IVLS is not to be confused with the Illinois Valley Wellness Resources, with which Mancuso is also involved. I.V. Wellness Resources works only with housed seniors and disabled residents of the I.V.
In 2021, Mancuso along with John and Jean Ann Miles, other CJ Homeless Alliance members, met with State Representative Lily Morgan about receiving some funding from the state for an “I.V. Shelter and Resources Center.” Morgan was successful in obtaining $630,000 in funding from House Bill 5006, which was passed through to AllCare Community Foundation to manage.
With the ability to fund the purchase of property to house a transitional shelter, the group got to work and selected a potential property. But the purchase stalled as the property that was selected did not have the required septic capacity for the anticipated population. The steering committee is currently scouting for a new location close enough to town to access services.
The group isn’t going into the shelter project blind or ignorant. A considerable amount of thought, research, and study has gone into the idea of bringing a transitional shelter to the I.V. After a thorough deliberation, the group decided to model the shelter after Rogue Retreat facilities.
Rogue Retreat, a hugely successful housing project aimed at reducing homelessness throughout Southern Oregon, is trying a fresh approach. “The options for transitional housing offered by Rogue Retreat provide hundreds of people a place to safely sleep and store belongings in an urban-commercial setting. At the time of my visit, all locations were at near capacity. Over 200 residents at the five visited locations had access to basic human needs—food, water, hygiene, personal space, case management and community,” said Courtney Arts, a community volunteer and steering committee member for I.V. Living Solutions, who toured the facilities during a recent fact-finding trip. She added, “Even with a high volume of residents to staff, every site was calm, organized and welcoming. You could see where the intention is to house people, but not make it too comfortable. Not too much space or storage, donated meals, a list of rules and chores, and accountability to yourself and others.” Another benefit of the Rogue model is that the cost to run a facility like this lessens as the housing conditions in the community improve. It turns out that the least expensive option is to provide low-barrier, low-cost housing. The staff is largely Peer Support Specialists—people with similar lived experience.
Who are the homeless? According to Rogue Retreat’s website, “People have a vision of who they believe to be homeless. But in reality, often the stereotypes aren’t true and don’t tell the whole story. Reasons for homelessness are as varied as individuals. Yes, substance abuse can play a part, which can lead to losing a job, which can lead to losing a home — yet there are thousands of other stories. Some people are homeless only briefly, while others struggle chronically. At its core, homelessness means isolation and desolation — a lack of home, a lack of family, and a lack of community. “When a person falls into a well, it doesn’t matter how they got there – they’re not going to get out without help,” said Chad McComas, Rogue Retreat Co-Founder & Executive Director.
The search for an acceptable property continues. “This month I.V. Living Solutions is doing a Strategic Plan with IVCDO to fine tune our plans for a Phase I facility for when we find a property to buy. I am working with a Realtor and actively pursuing locations for a facility that will model Rogue Retreat properties. Rogue Retreat staff is currently working with I.V. Living Solutions to form a “Scope of Work Proposal.” Stay tuned.
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