Feel what it’s like to be homeless at campout fundraiser

    Ashland Boy Scout Alexander Krause, then 11, helps Jim Shames, Heidi Parker and Anlei Parker-Shames, then 4, set up a tent for the homeless awareness campout in 2017 at Lincoln School. (Tidings file photo by Denise Baratta)

    The volunteers of Options for Helping Residents of Ashland (OHRA) are hoping to raise about $40,000 during their “Weekend of Hope.”

    The weekend starts with a “Pasta With a Purpose” dinner Friday, Nov. 2, at Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland, followed by the organization’s fifth annual Sleep Out Saturday, Nov. 3, on the grounds of the old Lincoln Elementary School on Beach Street.

    The nonprofit, formerly known as Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland, changed its name this year because much of its work is with people who aren't homeless, but are at risk of becoming so.

    Participants in the Sleep Out bring tents and sleeping bags, chat with the homeless and find out what it’s like to wake up bone-tired with your sleeping bag soaking wet.

    The weekend is the big fundraiser of the year for OHRA and helps with its support for rent, utility subsidies, deposits and other services that help keep Ashland’s homeless or near-homeless off the streets, says Leigh Madsen, executive director of the Ashland Community Resource Center.

    “Often, people are unable to navigate housing in today’s market, though it could be as little as $100 a month that they need,” says Madsen. “They don’t have the ability to stand in line and problem-solve and get ID or a driver’s license, and the majority need people who have the patience to apply and pay the application fee and get through it.”

    The Weekend of Hope is designed to give people “a grasp of what we do because most people have a hard time understanding it. It’s complex and hard to tell the story, so on Friday night (at the pasta event), you’ll be able to hear the stories and talk to the people who perform the work.”

    Some two dozen come to the sleepover, but there are only a couple of homeless people present to share stories, Madsen adds. The pasta dinner was added into the weekend a couple of years ago because many people can’t sleep in the cold on hard ground, let alone hear stories well, he says.

    However, says Madsen, “If you don’t come spend the night, you will have no idea what the sacrifices are.”

    The all-you-can-eat pasta buffet features live music and is $20. Children under 10 eat for free. Wine may be purchased. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 2, with dinner starting at 6. Tickets are available at the Ashland Community Resource Center, 611 Siskiyou Blvd., or at the door. The temple is at 1088 East Main St.

    Before the Sleep Out, “experiencing the pain and discomfort of homelessness,” participants are invited to gather pledges. Packets are available at the ACRC or contact Harriet Snyder, dnhdogsnhogs@gmail.com. Participants can pitch tents starting at 3 p.m. Saturday, with the event officially starting at 6 p.m. Refreshments will be served Saturday evening and Sunday morning, Nov. 3 and 4.

    “We designed these events to make helping those in poverty so easy you can do it in your sleep or at dinner,” says Ken Gudger, board president of OHRA, which operates the Ashland Community Resource Center. “We would love people to attend the Sleep Out to experience for just one night what the homeless feel every night. You can leverage your efforts on behalf of those in need by collecting pledges from your friends.”

    Funds raised on the weekend go to two main goals, says OHRA board member Montye Male. These are keeping people in housing, if they have it, and helping people find jobs, some of which are very basic, she says, but they need help with a resume and how to dress for a job interview.

    Two long-term projects of OHRA — building shower trucks and setting up winter shelters seven days a week — are still in the works, says Gudger, grinding slowly forward through administrative and logistical stages.

    “One site” for the shelter still looks like a future goal, says Gudger, but it appears that, starting Nov. 11, the city will have a shelter four nights a week, Monday through Thursday, and the Presbyterian Church will have a shelter the other three nights, he says.

    City staff is working on “a whole bunch of options,” including Pioneer Hall and a vacant church on East Main Street, for its shelter, says City Administrator Kelly Madding, but state building and fire regulations may limit the vacant church to 90 days.

    “We hope to know soon,” she says. “No one is sure what’s going to happen on the East Main church yet. It’s in process and everyone is working diligently to provide a seven-night-a-week shelter, whether in one or two places.”

    Each month, ACRC helps about three unhoused families find homes, protects housing for eight families faced with eviction and utilities cutoffs, finds temp jobs for three people and helps find permanent work for four people, organizers say, adding that they visit with 300 people a month.

    Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

    (Oct. 24: Story updated to use OHRA's new name, Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, and explain the name change.)

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