It’s as timely as the leaves changing on the trees in Lithia Park. Fall arrives and with it comes a citywide effort to push back against the homeless. We see it every single year. Part of it stems from downtown businesses who, being that they are in the center of town, deal with problems coming from the homeless community. This “theatre of the oppressed” plays daily, year round, but is especially visible during the heaviest of the tourist season as warm weather invites everyone outside and those sidewalk theatres become full.
Some of that winds up being very uncomfortable to watch. I imagine it’s even harder on those who are living it.
In this issue you’ll find pretty extensive coverage of the city council listening session on “The people passing through”. There were good people in that room, and I believe that most people mean well. Unfortunately the conversation was framed so that it was a session that was seeking the worse possible examples of interactions between the housed and un-housed communities.
In the spirit of what Mayor Stromberg asked residents to do, we’d like to make a few suggestions on what the city of Ashland can do to address these concerns.
- The city of Ashland should provide access to public restrooms that are open 24/7 and that are located throughout the city. In previous conversations on this topic, the city has stated that this is too costly. With the public testimony of people who live near Railroad Park (for example) speaking of how they see homeless people defecating in the park while there are often locked restrooms is an example of how the city of Ashland is failing residents, both housed and unhoused.
- Placing 10 additional trash cans along the bike trail throughout town would be a proactive solution to littering. Currently they are few and far between. Adding a small percentage of garbage pick up to the city’s current budget would be money well spent.
- Several residents complained of camping. The city could open up floor space inside Pioneer Hall and expand the current cold temperature shelter. It is illegal and unethical for the city of Ashland to punish people for being homeless and for sleeping when there are no other options.
The downtown exclusion zone prevents the city from hosting public meetings in that zone, unless those meetings are not “public” and that opens up a whole new set of problems. This is especially troublesome when the city is using that space to discuss the exclusion zone and the folks who are most affected would face further citations for attending. How can excluded people converse with mayor or city attorney? The city should address this concern in a transparent manner.
There’s an old African proverb that says that when elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled. Let’s all be kind, not fight and take care of the grass.
Vanessa and Jason Houk