Editor's note: As part of its ongoing coverage of issues associated with the behavior of people on the streets of downtown Ashland, the Tidings will periodically run updates submitted by the mayor and city administrator of the city of Ashland.
This the first in a series of reports from the mayor and city administrator to the City Council and community about conditions on the streets of Ashland and our shared efforts to improve them.
The main problems we are addressing are:
• disruptive behavior (especially downtown);
• camping on public and private lands with its attendant trash and human and animal waste; and
• the sheer number of transient people hanging out and/or panhandling on our streets.
We are governed by and committed to protecting our Constitutional rights and applying all laws and regulations equally. We also want to protect and improve the well-being of unhoused people and others in need.
Our efforts downtown are intended to ensure that all users can share the public space peacefully, joyfully and productively.
Here are 16 of the measures and activities currently in place or underway:
1. Two police officers are now assigned to patrol downtown at all times.
2. We have committed to doubling the number of police cadets (from four to eight) assisting the police this summer.
3. Prohibitions on panhandling at outdoor eating areas, ATMs and the entrances to banks are now provided in the Municipal Code.
4. A six-foot wide unobstructed passageway on all downtown sidewalks will be the law as of June 2.
5. All high-traffic areas of downtown will be smoke free as of June 3 (but alleyways and unenclosed private property will still be available for smokers).
6. Owners of dogs that bite, menace, chase or destroy people or property will be prosecuted and their dogs controlled or impounded.
7. Local business owners dealing with vandalism, littering and trespass during off-hours can request extra police attention at their businesses.
8. Our municipal court judge now has the ability to sentence offenders convicted of city, state or federal laws to actually serve time in the County Jail instead of being 'matrixed' out.
10. The Culture of Peace Commission's Peace Ambassadors in Chatauqua Square are greeting visitors twice a week.
11. The Listening Post is offering its services in the Plaza to anyone who needs/ wants to be listened to.
12. Individual citizens and friends of Ashland are reporting peacefully "inhabiting" downtown. This can be surprisingly effective. Why not try it yourself?
Outreach and assistance to our people in need
13. Last April 21, representatives of 30 organizations that interact with people on the streets of Ashland and/or our community members in need met to create the foundation for collaboration, information-sharing and problem-solving. The first fruit of that meeting is a contact list that will be sent out to all participants this week.
14. One such organization is Jackson County Mental Health, which is in the process of establishing a facility in Ashland. Services will include:
• mental health care for all Oregon Health Plan members;
• enrollment assistance in the Oregon Health Plan for low-income and indigent individuals; and
• a crisis worker to assist our police when dealing with mental health situations.
15. Southern Oregon Goodwill Industries' Employment Connection is setting up shop in Ashland. It helps any job-seeker with referrals and job search training. Planned opening: early summer.
16. The Chamber of Commerce's "Change with a Purpose" program encourages generous individuals to divert their donations from seasonal street people to our local people in need via the Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul and other organizations.
We are dealing with a fundamental societal problem in Ashland that has no true “solution” and we are dealing with it with the limited resources of a city of 20,000 people. But we also have a commitment to pull together as a community to help those who need and want help. It’s something we must do; the well-being of our community is at stake.
If you have corrections or suggestions regarding this report, please email the mayor (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or administrator (email@example.com) with "Streets Report #1" in your subject line.
John Stromberg is mayor and Dave Kanner is administrator of the city of Ashland.