Most of the ground in Bend and Redmond has recently been covered with a dusting of snow or a bit of frost since Sunday.
That made the freshly overturned dirt and the dry boulders placed strategically at the entrances to a 2,000-acre stretch of land east of the Redmond city limits — land that formerly housed hundreds of homeless people — much more noticeable Thursday.
For the homeless residents who are trying to move their trailers and campers out — or even drive their car to work — the blockades have crippled them with fear.
“I don’t want to go back to the streets,” said resident Terri Selby said through tears. “I think about winter, and I think about how cold it is, and people look down on you and judge you when you’re on the streets. It’s like we are all villains.”
Residents here have grown increasingly fearful since June, when the property — owned by Deschutes County, the Central Oregon Irrigation District and the Redmond School District — emerged as the focus of a preservation plan.
The plan would displace hundreds of homeless people who have camped there illegally for years. They were told in July they would have to relocate by the end of October. To ensure that happened, the property owners began blocking roads in August to limit vehicle access.
Those who remain said Thursday they have nowhere to go, and with more blockades, they have no way to leave.
Selby, 59, has been living illegally on the county’s portion of land for three years while she and her boyfriend sit on a waiting list for low-income housing in Redmond. But with the housing shortage in Central Oregon and an evacuation plan that feels more like an eviction, there’s barely enough hope to be found, she said.
“They’re taking fallen people and making us feel like garbage,” Selby said. “They’re taking our very last hopes and dreams.”
The idea of roadblocks that would start appearing Aug. 15 until the end of October was undercut by early closures on the COID land. The COID is trying to sell its 196 acres of land for $8 million, said spokesperson ShanRae Hawkins in September.
The extremely high number of roadblocks in the last week were a devastating blow to any chance of moving homes and belongings in accordance with Deschutes County’s land management plan.
“Things are changing on a day-to-day basis now,” said Bob Bohac, a volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul, which provides services to the poor, and Jericho Road, which provides emergency shelter and food for the homeless. “It is just shocking how much work has been done in even the last three days alone.”
Bohac has spent three years volunteering his time, bringing water and propane tanks to numerous people living illegally outside the Redmond city limits.
The highly trafficked roads that Bohac and others have used to help get people propane tanks or medical attention are now blocked by large boulders or trenches.
In addition, two gates have been installed at the end of East Antler Road as a way to allow access for emergency vehicles. the roadblocks have been put in place according to the land management plan as a way to deter vehicles from accessing the area, county property manager James Lewis said.
Both gates have since been significantly damaged, costing the county nearly $1,600 to replace them, he said.
The roadblocks will cut down on illegal activity such as dumping, wood cutting and the use of firearms in the area.
With panic spreading rapidly through the remaining camps of an estimated 50 to 75 people, rumors of citations for trespassing are a very real threat, said Colleen Thomas, Homeless Outreach Coordinator for Deschutes County.
The official estimate of the number of homeless people living on the land was 250 to 400 people in July, though Thomas said that number could be underreported. Some residents said close to 1,000 people.
Most of the campers have moved further into BLM land, Thomas said, where they can camp for 14 days at a time before moving to a different location 25 miles away. But for the remaining campers, the threat of a citation and being immobile is extremely troubling.
Valerie Brinton, 49, and her husband, Mark Brinton, 64, have been living on the county land for seven months.
“We’re some of the lucky ones because we get disability,” Valerie said.
Mark Brinton is blind, and cannot navigate the maze of dirt roads on his own, leaving his wife and volunteers like Bohac to get both campers to various medical appointments.
“Our focus now is to get out in a safe manner,” Mark Brinton said. “But this is so confusing for people out here when everyone tells a different story about what is happening and when it is happening.”
The Brintons cannot move their camper trailer to a campground because winter camping is not allowed. Neither is their trailer, Mark Brinton said, because vehicles are not allowed at different parks if the vehicle model was built before 1998.
Gathering information from various government agencies is nothing short of difficult, Mark said, and rumors only fuel an uneasy crowd.
“The agencies that are actually out here and talking to us are our guardian angels,” he said, of the volunteers trucking propane, blankets and water to the various campsites.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s office has not issued any citations for trespassing, although they will cite people for other illegal activity, said Sgt. Nathan Garibay, Emergency Services Manager. The sheriff’s office will only get involved if a complaint is recorded by the county, he added.
For now, Lewis said the county has no plans to cite people for trespassing on the land.
“We never expected to be in this situation,” Mark Brinton said. “We could make the arrangements and get ourselves to that next point if we knew what that next point was. There’s a whole bunch of people who will move, but that just moves this same situation to a different location.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7829, firstname.lastname@example.org