When someone struggling with drug use reaches out for help, there’s a chance they’ll never get that help if they are unhoused. Often there are waiting lists for residential treatment services, and by the time a space opens up, the person may have changed their mind, disappeared with no contact information, or died.
“This population has faced a lot of challenges, and it’s really devastating for them when they take that first step of coming in, getting assessed, and then being told they need residential treatment, but there’s no room for them just yet,” said Sommer Wolcott, executive director of OnTrack Rogue Valley, a behavioral health and substance use treatment and recovery organization in Medford. “Emergency lodging can prevent people from falling through that huge crack in the system.”
Emergency lodging is similar to a hotel and protects people from the elements or other dangers of living on the streets, or a place to escape abusive relationships. It is a “low-barrier” arrangement, meaning there are very few requirements or restrictions. Drug use is not allowed on site, and residents must be on a wait list for residential substance use treatment or medically managed withdrawal management (detox) and follow basic rules of lawful and respectful behavior. Emergency lodging is just one piece of the entire recovery and treatment journey, often the first piece, and is a critical piece taking root in southwest Oregon.
OnTrack is in the midst of spending $3.7 million it received through Measure 110, Oregon’s 2020 drug decriminalization law that focuses resources on treatment and recovery, versus jail. OnTrack does not offer medical services, so it partnered with Oasis Center of the Rogue Valley, a nonprofit that specializes in medical care for high-risk pregnancies associated with substance use. Working together, both agencies are using a portion of their Measure 110 funding to support the recovery of the Rogue Valley’s most vulnerable populations.
This year, OnTrack partnered with Oasis to open three emergency lodging apartments in Medford designated for pregnant women who are unhoused or unsafely housed, using drugs, and on a wait list for residential treatment beds. With Measure 110 and other funding, Oasis purchased and renovated the apartments, and OnTrack manages the property and provides case management and peer support to the women. The building is attached to an Oasis clinic, so medical care is close by.
Since the apartments opened in July, 11 women have lived there and moved on to residential treatment or detox facilities. (OnTrack operates three separate residential treatment programs for moms, dads and childless adults, but they will discharge emergency lodging residents to any open residential treatment bed.)
OnTrack will open a second Measure 110-funded emergency lodging facility this fall in Medford. The multiplex, which cost approximately $775,000 to buy and renovate, can house 10-12 people and will prioritize pregnant drug users but will admit all genders based on need. A case manager/peer support specialist will be stationed on-site. With an estimated average stay of one month, OnTrack estimates it can house between 120 and 150 people a year at the Medford multiplex, as residents wait for residential treatment bed openings.
Emergency lodging is also a critical need for people who complete an in-house withdrawal management program, for example at The ARC Medical Detox Program in Jackson County.
“The ARC is expanding their detox program, and we can be that ‘soft landing’ after someone successfully completes detox but is still waiting for a residential treatment bed,” Wolcott said. “Even if the wait time for a bed is one week, with nowhere else to go, people can easily start using again during that time, then have to go back through detox again, and so on. Too many people are in that endless spiral.”
OnTrack’s outreach workers visit parks and detox facilities to help connect people with resources and get them on the wait list for treatment beds.
Outreach workers also go to jails, where some inmates are on a wait list for residential treatment and would benefit from being released directly into emergency lodging where they can get started with a case manager, peer support and other services while they wait.
Even more emergency lodging, also paid for with Measure 110 money and other funding, will open in Grants Pass in 2024. OnTrack purchased an old pawn shop and is working with architects to transform the shop into a 12-bed emergency lodging facility, with case workers and peer support on-site. OnTrack also purchased the adjoining property using other funds and plans to move its entire Grants Pass outpatient substance use treatment team there.
Wolcott hopes the close proximity of individual and group counseling, peer support and case management will help the people living in emergency lodging while they wait for a residential treatment bed somewhere.
“If you combine low barriers and safe housing with intensive outpatient services all in one place, we might actually be able to divert some folks from needing residential treatment,” Wolcott said.
Lastly, OnTrack used Measure 110 funding to purchase its first transitional housing property in Josephine County (they have three others in Jackson County). Unlike emergency lodging, transitional housing is for people who have completed a residential treatment program and need a home for up to six months while they look for jobs and permanent housing as they transition back into society.
“These individuals are trying to put their lives back together,” Wolcott said. “They’re still engaged in outpatient services at this point and getting peer support to help remove barriers and find housing, but they are coming out on the other side of their journey.”
Transitional housing residents cannot use drugs, either on- or off-site, and must remain engaged in outpatient services for their entire stay. OnTrack’s new transitional house in Josephine County opened in June and has remained full. The house can accommodate women and children. Depending on the number of children, between five to seven women share the house.
“While it isn’t perfect, Measure 110 is paying for much needed services in Oregon,” Wolcott said. “There are so many gaps people can fall through, and things like emergency lodging and transitional housing help fill those gaps.”
To learn more about OnTrack Rogue Valley’s entire menu of services, including outpatient services in Medford, Grants Pass and Cave Junction, residential treatment programs and low-income housing, visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook.