Garbage. Abandoned vehicles. Human bodily waste. Catcalls. A hostage situation in a tattoo parlor.
The concerns nearby property owners have raised about Sagewood Sanctuary, Bend’s only dedicated cold-weather shelter, run the gamut, from nuisance to terrifying. But the city’s code enforcement manager said the complaints don’t all stem from the shelter. Complaints filed with the city indicate that some problems in the area predate the shelter and are linked to other establishments, he said.
“We got some people complaining that it’s the customers at Midtown and some people complaining that it’s the transient population,” Bend Code Enforcement Manager James Goff said. “I think it’s interesting that this month they’re complaining about the patrons at the warming shelter.”
During the past two winters, Sagewood Sanctuary has run a nighttime warming shelter out of Pfeifer & Associates, a drug treatment center on the outskirts of downtown Bend.
The same city block — bordered by Greenwood Avenue to the north, Irving Avenue to the south, Hill Street to the west and the Bend Parkway to the east — houses a tattoo shop, a psychologists’ office, a handful of apartments and the Midtown Ballroom & Domino Room, a concert venue.
The block is also next to an underpass where garbage accumulates in narrow, dark pedestrian tunnels and less than half a mile from the Bend BottleDrop, a site police flagged as a trouble area last year.
The Bend BottleDrop, the drug treatment center, the warming shelter and the Midtown Ballroom contribute to problems that make this particular block worse than other parts of downtown, said Murray O’Neil, a West Linn man who owns the nine apartment units across an alley from Pfeifer & Associates and who, among others, recently brought complaints about the shelter to the Bend City Council.
“The neighborhood has had a huge trash and parking problem,” O’Neil said. “Last year, it was bad. This year, it was worse.”
In emails sent last fall to Goff, O’Neil detailed complaints about noise, alleyway parking, litter, trespassing, graffiti and people rummaging through his tenants’ trash cans. O’Neil wrote that his late father, who died almost seven years ago, dealt with the same issues while managing the property.
Neither Pfeifer & Associates nor the Midtown Ballroom are being good neighbors, O’Neil said. He shared security camera videos of a man urinating on a wall and rummaging through a garbage cans, and he said he’s caught people peering in windows or trying to get into his property several times.
“We have all had to deface our property with ‘No Trespassing’ signs, ‘Smile, you’re on camera’ signs and ‘No Smoking’ signs,” O’Neil said.
Neighborhood disputes, like the one at the core of the issues in midtown, are sometimes referred to trained mediators at Community Solutions of Central Oregon. Goff said his department refers about one case a year to the nonprofit organization, while police can send others.
Mediation is free for participants when the city refers them, but it doesn’t always work. In this case, O’Neil said he realized it wouldn’t succeed because the mediators didn’t understand the issues he had. For instance, he said, one of his complaints was that Pfeifer clients parked in other businesses’ parking spots, and the director at Community Solutions told him to park in the lot at a nearby child care facility when he went to mediation despite not having a shared parking agreement with the child care facility.
Michelle Whitehead, a psychologist who works from an office next to the apartments O’Neil owns, told the Bend City Council she didn’t think Bend should have allowed the cold-weather shelter. Whitehead did not return a phone message left at her office.
“The city never asked anybody else in the neighborhood how this might impact us,” she told the council.
Cold shelters like Sagewood Sanctuary are open only when nighttime temperatures fall below 25 degrees Fahrenheit and Bend’s city manager declares a weather emergency. The businesses that open their doors to let people in from the cold don’t have to go through the land use approval process they’d need to become a permanent shelter — instead, they just need to pass a fire safety inspection.
Two permanent shelters, Bethlehem Inn and Shepherd’s House, are able to house more people than usual during weather emergencies. Both of those shelters limit who they accept even during weather emergencies. Sagewood Sanctuary allows people who are drunk or high, who have pets or who have criminal records.
“This is literally a citizen allowing people in who have no place else to go when it is 20 degrees and there are 2 feet of snow on the ground,” said Bend City Councilor Barb Campbell. “These are people no one else will take.”
Campbell, along with Bend Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Abernethy and former City Councilor Nathan Boddie, have spent years working on establishing a housing-first project that will help homeless people like those who can stay at Sagewood Sanctuary find a place to live while they work toward becoming clean and sober.
That’s part of the long-term vision for Sagewood Sanctuary, too. The nonprofit organization is seeking property to expand the services it provides throughout the year, and it wants to eventually find space to develop a maintained camp that can shelter homeless residents in tents while providing support services.
The recent complaints from nearby property owners are news to Larry Kogovsek, executive director of Sagewood Sanctuary.
“We’ve been there over 100 nights,” he said. “We tried to deal with any problems and pick up trash.”
But the shelter doesn’t plan on returning to the Pfeifer & Associates building next year, Kogovsek said. However, he said he and employees were interested in hearing about issues from neighbors to avoid repeating them.
“We’re open to all kinds of ideas to make things better around here,” Kogovsek said. “We really don’t have a squabble with the neighbors.”
Angela Kephart, owner of Mum’s Tattoo Studio next door to Pfeifer & Associates, said the shelter should have more regulations in its next location. She said people who use the shelter should have to stay there all night rather than being free to wander in and out, because she’s seen shelter guests leave to drink, use drugs or have sex nearby before returning.
Kephart and two other women were in the studio one Saturday evening in January when a man she said she had seen at the Pfeifer building came into the studio yelling and locked the door behind him. Stanley Layton Phillips, 32, pleaded guilty to one count of coercion and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 3 years of supervised probation and barred from coming within 200 feet of the business.
That was the scariest incident, but Kephart said she’s seen an increase in litter and people camping outside because they’ll come to the shelter on nights when it doesn’t open.
“Sure, I’ve seen transient people walking under the (overpass) bridge, but not camping until this shelter opened,” she said. “It may be a sanctuary for them, but for the neighborhood it’s a hazard.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org