Kathleen “Kaat” Snyder Ryan moved to Bend in 2011 to live near her brother and get away from the abusive ex she refers to as her “insignificant other.” But it wasn’t long before the ex joined her, and Ryan, 60, soon found herself homeless and unemployed.
“We either stayed in motels, under bridge underpasses or in my car,” she said. “It was horrible, being out in the cold.”
Ryan began shoplifting and was arrested five times on theft charges between 2013 and 2015, according to online court records. She was jailed in February 2016 and sent to Bethlehem Inn, a homeless shelter in Bend, when she was released on parole in September.
At first, Ryan said, she was ready to bolt. She kept her backpack on during her whole first day at the shelter.
“I thought, ‘Oh, heavens. It’s a homeless shelter,’” Ryan said. “But it’s been more than just a bed and a meal and clothing. They’ve helped me out so much.”
But for homeless women who rely on places like Bethlehem Inn, surviving the coming winter could be a significant challenge. The social services safety net that helped Ryan, and others like her, is fragile, and the loss of one place — this winter, it’s Bend Church — means many them won’t have a warm place to stay.
The Methodist church downtown was a “low-barrier” shelter, meaning homeless women in Bend who aren’t ready or able to give up drugs, alcohol or non-service animals could stay there — as long as they behaved, they were welcome. The church isn’t hosting homeless women and children this winter because church officials no longer felt comfortable doing that.
Bend Church sheltered 92 women, 14 children and between 14 and 16 dogs last winter. It allowed pets and didn’t screen for alcohol or drugs.
Stacey Witte, director of homeless outreach at the church, has been looking for a new location since March and has been unable to find one. She said she’s already been getting calls from St. Charles Bend and the Deschutes County jail, asking if the shelter is open so transient former patients and inmates have a place to go.
“It’s such a shame because it’s so needed,” Witte said. “I just think about all the schools, all the buildings that are empty at night.”
A city of Bend weather emergency declared Nov. 3 allows alternative shelters, like the one hosted last year at Bend Church, to house people when temperatures fall below 25 degrees. It also allows existing shelters, like Bethlehem Inn, to let more people in to sleep than they otherwise would.
Last year, Bethlehem Inn was able to allow up to 12 people to sleep on the floor of its dining hall, managing director Chris Clouart said. The shelter has a new dining hall, and Clouart said the shelter expects an inspection from the city’s fire department in the next few days to see how many additional people it can house during cold weather emergencies.
“I don’t have beds for them,” Clouart said. “I have mats on the floor.”
People seeking shelter at Bethlehem Inn need to pass a few hard barriers. They can’t be listed on a sex offender registry, a breath analysis test can’t show the presence of alcohol and they need to pass a drug test, though people who test positive only for marijuana may be considered because of how long the drug can stay in a person’s system.
Some of these barriers can be slightly relaxed during inclement weather — for instance, a person who registers a .07, just below the legal limit for intoxicated driving may be able to stay the night provided he or she behaves.
Bethlehem Inn also looks at what it can do to help people it can’t offer shelter to, he said, so the shelter might provide a warm sleeping bag or make sure the person has a good coat. But for the most part, Bethlehem Inn continues to follow its intake procedures. The shelter offers emergency intakes of up to seven days, after which families or single adults can stay for 30-day increments if they enter Bethlehem Inn’s case management program and actively work toward becoming self-sufficient.
“Whether there’s a low-barrier shelter or not, it doesn’t affect what we do,” he said. “It may affect who comes to us.”
Bethlehem Inn used to see fewer people seeking shelter in the summer, said Clouart, who started working at the shelter in 2007. But during the past few years, it’s been full regardless of the time of year. It’s now working on building a new facility with space for 10 families instead of five and increasing its space for single adults as well.
“Whether it’s the middle of December or the middle of July, we’ve been at capacity,” Clouart said.
This is due, in large part, to changing demographics of the shelter’s residents, he said. When he started working at Bethlehem Inn, the shelter’s residents were a “more stereotypical group of people,” many of whom had been homeless for years at a time. But as housing prices in Central Oregon skyrocketed and wages remained relatively stagnant, more Bend residents became “situationally homeless,” or temporarily without housing.
These often are people who have jobs and aren’t prepared to camp or live in their cars even during nice weather, the way chronically homeless people might, Clouart said.
Outside of Bend, homeless Central Oregonians who need shelter during the winter can turn to temporary cold shelters in Redmond and Sisters. Both shelters rotate between several churches over the course of the winter, and people looking for shelter can call 541-788-8098 in Redmond or 541-639-7321 in Sisters to learn whether the shelter is open that night and where it is.
The Redmond cold-weather shelter opens at 6 p.m. when the prevailing temperature is freezing or below, said John Lodise, the shelter’s coordinator. It’s open to men, women and children and expects people seeking shelter to be sober, but it may “show grace” to people who have used alcohol or drugs in certain conditions, he said.
The shelter accepts people from Bend and elsewhere in Central Oregon, provided they find their own way to Redmond. A shelter van runs by the Redmond library, where the Bend-to-Redmond bus stops.
So far, Lodise said he hasn’t seen an increase in shelter seekers from Bend. The shelter, which has 22 sleeping pads and hopes to have closer to 30 soon, has not yet reached capacity.
“When the weather is on and off as it is in November, the numbers will build up and then we’ll close for a few nights and they’ll drop down again,” Lodise said. “When we get to December and January, the numbers build up and stay up.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org