Some well-meaning Ashland residents were quick to question the City Council’s reluctance to expand emergency shelter availability by raising the temperature threshold from 20 degrees to 32 degrees. But the council had good reason to hesitate, given the demands that would place on already-strapped shelter volunteers.
Ashland provides shelter seven nights a week for 34 people, an accomplishment City Administrator Kelly Madding praised as incredible in a meeting last week. That effort, a cooperative venture of local churches and Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, involves multiple volunteers working 154 nights. Emergency shelters, which open when the temperature drops to 20 degrees or below, are a separate operation, and also require volunteers.
OHRA representatives told the council that, while the organization’s board would love to serve more people, they fear that expanding emergency shelter nights would stretch their corps of volunteers too thin.
OHRA operates emergency shelters for 10 nights each winter under a grant from ACCESS. Madding explained that raising the temperature threshold to 32 degrees would increase that service to 50 nights a year on average, in addition to the seven-nights-a-week shelter.
Ashland is a compassionate community, and the seven-night shelter is indeed a remarkable achievement for a community this size. The danger is that pushing for even more now could cut into the number of available volunteers, threatening the ability of the existing shelter to keep up daily operations.
It’s never easy to see people suffer in the cold, but the city is right to protect its existing operation before trying to expand it.