Bend residents should not think the Bend City Council reveled in its decision Wednesday night to possibly evict homeless campers from Juniper Ridge because of fire danger. Councilors made a difficult decision without great alternatives.
The threat from fire is real and increases with people living on the property. Fire poses a danger to the campers, nearby residents and firefighters. Juniper Ridge is 1,500 acres of city property and councilors have an obligation to manage it responsibly.
If that was all there was to consider, the decision would be straightforward. But it’s not. The homeless encampments at Juniper Ridge are in a way one of Bend’s fastest growing housing developments. The city says there are some 50 to 60 camps of people. Some are larger than others. The city has tried to close off some access points. Predictably, that didn’t work.
What happens to the homeless if the city evicts them? Many homeless already struggle with financial and medical issues. Getting evicted from Juniper Ridge doesn’t make those issues easier. Jon Skidmore, Bend’s chief operating officer, told councilors Wednesday the city would try to do it humanely and have services available.
The issue that didn’t get a lot of attention Wednesday is that when homeless are evicted from Juniper Ridge similar problems will likely just be pushed to new locations — other government or private land.
That’s the bigger challenge for councilors. In recent years, councilors and city staff have been fully committed to making it easier for housing to get built in Bend. That helps. And to be fair to councilors, improving the situation for homeless in Bend or the county shouldn’t be the city’s problem alone to solve. But as humane as the city will be if it follows through with evictions, it may be like one swing in a distressing game of whack-a-mole.