Housing First is the approach to homelessness that says the best way to end the problem is to get the homeless into housing and then bring services to them, and it makes perfect sense. In fact, it’s been the key idea behind a slew of 10-year plans to end homelessness in communities across the United States.
But for communities like Bend, apparently, Housing First may not be the answer, at least not in the traditional sense. With over half of the city’s residents spending above the 30 percent of income benchmark on what’s known as gross rent — that’s rent, utilities and heating — housing for those without jobs or with low-paying jobs can be hard to come by. True, there are almost 1,000 more rental properties available today than just a couple of years ago, but rents remain high.
Larry Kogovsek, a Bend resident long interested in improving the lot of the neediest among us, thinks he has a better answer. And while your first instinct may be to turn away when you read about what he proposes, don’t. Hear him out. There’s a healthy dose of common sense in his idea.
Kogovsek wants to create what amounts to a sponsored homeless camp, not a few tents hidden in the bushes behind a big-box store, but a place out in the open, equipped with port-a-potties, garbage service and space heaters to keep residents warm. To that end he’s received 501(c)(3) status for Sagewood Sanctuary and encouragement from a variety of public officials. Now he needs a bit, maybe 2 acres, of land.
What’s in it for Bend and its residents?
My personal answer — it’s a moral imperative to help those in need of help — will motivate some to reach out, I know. I also know that some Bend residents will need more practical reasons for helping our homeless neighbors, and that answers to questions of morality vary from person to person.
Still, Bend’s homeless really are our neighbors. More than half, according to the one-night shelter count done in January, lived in houses or apartments right here before they became homeless.
Then there are the brass tacks sorts of reasons.
If our homeless population, or even part of it, is living in an established camp, a couple of things can happen. First, by providing toilets, even port-a-potties, we improve sanitation in areas across the city. Add to that garbage collection, and we’ve made Bend a healthier place to live than it is today. Too, the former Icon City shower truck would no doubt visit the site regularly.
Kogovsek’s plans don’t stop at gathering a bunch of homeless folks in a specific location. Sagewood Sanctuary would go well beyond just a place for the homeless to sleep at night. As with more traditional Housing First models, the sanctuary would see that the services the homeless need were available on-site.
Drugs and alcohol and, presumably, other mental health services would be available, for one thing, and that’s important. While not all who are homeless are addicts, many have addiction or mental health problems that make getting off the street difficult. Sally Pfeifer of Pfeifer and Associates is working with Kogovsek on the project. Her business provides substance abuse and addiction counseling, and she agrees about the need for such services.
The two envision other services being available, as well, the sorts of things that give people who’ve been working only on survival the tools they need to get jobs and, with luck, move away from homelessness.
Then there’s this: Bend’s homeless carry their lives around with them all day long, every day. If they stash things under bushes, those things often are stolen. An established camp would give them one thing the rest of us take for granted, the ability to leave our worldly possessions behind each morning knowing they’ll still be there when we come back each night.
— Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821, firstname.lastname@example.org