The small park located between the Downtown Bend Public Library and the Deschutes Library Administration Building on Northwest Wall Street was closed to the public last week due to an overwhelming number of people using the park, littering and allegedly causing a nuisance to library customers, according to library directors.
Pat Erwert, park services director with Bend Park & Recreation District, said downtown businesses have reported experiencing similar problems for the better part of a year.
“Recently, there’s been a huge increase in criminal activity and behavior issues there — several drug deals occurring in a car down there, obscenities being screamed at staff,” he said. “Just a lot of issues that have escalated.”
Deschutes County Public Library System Director Todd Dunkelberg said the library has borne the brunt of the disturbances over the past 10 months and the problems spurred the creation of a task force that has met monthly since October to address the problem. The task force includes Bend law enforcement, downtown businesses and local homeless advocate organizations.
“We have partnered with a lot of agencies to try to resolve the situation because we feel like it’s more than a library problem, it’s a community problem,” he said. “We’ve tried different things. Some things have worked, some things haven’t.”
Agencies on the task force include the library, Bend Park & Recreation District, Downtown Bend Business Association, Bend City Council, Bend 2030, Bend Police, Homeless Leadership Coalition, Legal Aid Services of Central Oregon and Cascade Youth & Family Center. Library officials have spearheaded several solutions, like eliminating lunch services in the area, working with Bend Police to set up regular security visits and disseminating a clear message of customer expectations.
“The challenge for us, as a library, is we’re really not equipped to monitor these types of issues,” Dunkelberg said. “We do a good job of making sure the insides are safe, but we can’t effectively monitor what’s going on outside.”
The park has been closed for three days, with the area bound by strings, signs and a patrolling security guard from a private firm. Dunkelberg said the library is taking it on a week-by-week basis, but the area may be closed for the entire summer, pending the implementation of any long-term solutions.
“We have to shut it off to our entire public because we don’t discriminate over who gets to use it and who doesn’t,” he said. “Our goal is to make our libraries, parking areas and access to libraries safe and welcome to all customers.”
Kevin Barclay, Deschutes Public Library System assistant director, said he thinks the problem has a lot to do with how the community changes as the summer comes around.
“It’s involving a lot of folks coming through town and not being real respectful and I think that kind of escalated and forced our hand,” Barclay said. “I’m hoping the task force can provide opportunities for day centers where people can hang out and get the services they need.”
Megan Sergi, program director for Cascade Youth & Family Center, said in an email that the center is in the process of applying for Community Development Block Grant funding from the city of Bend. This funding would contribute to the development of a drop-in center, modeled after other agencies in Oregon that cater to runaway and homeless youth. The drop-in center would provide basic resources like showers, laundry, access to food, lockers, employment and education resources, alcohol and drug support and mental health counseling.
Dunkelberg said he’s gotten positive feedback from library visitors, but the task force will continue to weigh its options.
“I think there’s many factors contributing to this,” he said. “I expect it to be a continuing community issue; we just don’t now where it’s going to move next.”
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