Ten years ago Aaron Fletcher, 30, voluntarily went homeless to pursue a sustainable lifestyle, free of possessions and the daily routine. He was looking to create solutions to some of society’s issues, and learn more about himself in the process.
Traveling from Kansas City, Mo., Fletcher eventually found himself in Ashland, where there were plenty of issues, and an open-mindedness to finding solutions.
During the five years Fletcher has called Ashland his home, he has been searching for a way to ensure the homeless can exercise their rights, while still living the way they choose.
Inspired by the Legalize Sleep Campaign two years ago, Fletcher started developing a project called “Homefree Hostels,” which would help integrate homeless back into society by providing them with a home to live in through a work-trade agreement.
The idea of a house took precedence, because the homeless felt that encampments segregate the homeless from the rest of the community instead of dealing with the issue of homelessness. According to Fletcher, providing the homeless with houses will make them more conscientious of their community and put them in closer proximity to job options.
“If you want these people to not be homeless, put them in a home,” he said.
The word “homefree,” according to Fletcher, means giving back more than is taken from society. This is the opposite of homelessness, said Fletcher, and represents the goal of the project, which caters to those who want to pull themselves out of homelessness.
Each house will be self-managed by five local homeless, as Oregon law restricts up to five unrelated residents every two weeks in a house at one time. New managers will be required to pass a sex offender background check, and must be voted in unanimously by the original managers. The founders of the project, Fletcher, Jay Fellers, Kevin Edwards, and Cody Meyock will manage the first house.
Homeless will earn their stay by providing at least one hour of free services to
neighbors for every day they wish to stay in the house, which will integrate them back into a work routine. These tasks include auto mechanic work, gardening, yard service, dog walking, survival skills training, and more. In addition, guests will sign a “Guest Privileges Agreement” and attend daily briefings.
“Anything that’s free is not nearly as appreciated as something worked for, and it contributes to the homeless disrespecting the community,” said Fletcher.
The labor will be documented with before and after pictures and certificate verification, which will go to compose online portfolios for each member and assist in the process of pursing jobs and creating resumes.
The project will “Give people a reason to love themselves again,” said Fletcher. Fletcher believes that the community in turn will appreciate the efforts of homeless trying to become reacquainted with society.
In four days of previous collecting, the cause raised $618. Businesses such as Martolli’s Pizza, Love Revolution, and Taroko will soon be taking more donations of money and unwanted items in transparent house donation boxes.
During the process of establishing a bank account for the “Homefree Hostels,” Fletcher realized that this couldn’t be done without a permanent address, a slight drawback to the plan and a major incentive to push forward. A permanent address is also required for other actions, and disenfranchises homeless from many things – such as voting.
“There’s a lot you can’t do without an address,” said Fletcher. “It will be nice to be considered an actual citizen by the government.”
Fletcher looks forward to reevaluating his nomadic lifestyle, partly due to these reasons. In addition, a house will act as a “headquarters” for redistributing items and food among those who need it most.
The process of deciding on the first house is underway, the group hopes to have a three bedroom house by the end of the month.
Fletcher believes it is important to keep the financial details “ publicly transparent so the community can give faithfully.”
If the community is able to see that their donations are being spent on what the cause claims to need the money for, said Fletcher, more people will be willing to contribute.
All bank statements will be made public on the website homefreehostels.com. Other donation options include bringing unused sport and camping equipment to Get N’ Gear on 3rd and A Street in Ashland.