Hundreds of homeless people could be displaced as the result of a cleanup effort on 2,000 acres of agricultural land east of Redmond.
Deschutes County officials are working with the Central Oregon Irrigation District, the Redmond School District and members of the Homeless Leadership Coalition and have developed a management plan to address existing damage to the land from illegal activity, such as dumping and cutting down trees.
But the management plan also calls for removing approximately 200 to 400 people living in homeless camps on the private and public lands.
“The goal was a plan to manage the impact on the land,” Deschutes County Property Manager James Lewis said. “It’s not just a homeless problem; it’s true land management. It will make the land safe for legal use of the land, like hiking or biking.”
The plan begins with restricting access by vehicles, which have created numerous illegal dirt roads. Road closures begin Aug. 15 and will continue through late October, Lewis said, giving the area’s homeless residents time to start making plans in the better weather months.
“The roads are like a maze,” Lewis said. “Those dirt roads that lead back into the forest were created illegally. People aren’t riding their bikes out there to cut wood, you know? They aren’t taking their washing machines out there in a wheelbarrow.”
Lewis joined Larry Roofener of the Central Oregon Irrigation District and Tony Pupo, a representative of Redmond School District, in the preliminary efforts to close the roads. On Wednesday, the group helped post signs announcing the closures and handed out flyers to 45 individuals in the area.
Some of the larger dirt roads will be permanently blocked with boulders and other landscape materials, while some will be chained off and left for emergency access.
The land is still zoned for agriculture, and a decision in 2015 to establish the area as the East Redmond Firearms Discharge Restricted Area — where shooting guns is prohibited on the county property — was the result of the area’s “proximity to a growing urban area,” Lewis said.
The Central Oregon Irrigation District plans to sell the nearly 200 acres it owns in the area, land that was recently priced at $8 million. Irrigation district communications consultant ShanRae Hawkins said the goal is to go about this process the “right way” and offer help to those illegally camping on the land.
“Our goal is to connect people as much as possible,” Hawkins said. “Our strategy is to offer the resources for services and shelters available. It’s not just this massive push, but we want to help them.”
While the timeline for cleanup is still unknown, moving hundreds of people off the land is another issue, Hawkins said. After the initial phase of notification is complete, transients will be considered trespassing on private property and enforcement would fall to the Redmond Police Department and Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
“At this point there is no plan,” said Deschutes County sheriff’s Sgt. Nathan Garibay. “We would respond at the request of the property owners.”
Law enforcement officers would only be involved when people are in violation, Garibay said, and action past October would be up to the property owners to request.
“It’s a very complicated situation and we are going to be as compassionate as possible,” he said.
St. Vincent de Paul of Redmond organizes dropoffs of supplies to the outskirts of the camp, with the need for mostly water, propane and food. Those supplies were crucial in the winter, when the only water for homeless people in the area would freeze, said Molly Heiss, associate director of housing stabilization at NeighborImpact.
The distribution of supplies only touches the very outer reaches of the “tent city,” Heiss said, leaving homeless advocates and landowners an unknown estimate of the transient population in the area.
“There’s going to be a huge displacement of people,” Heiss said. “All of those people would be eligible (to receive housing funds for rent from NeighborImpact) but we just can’t find them all units. There’s just not a lot of vacancies and that number (at the camps) could be a lot higher, we just simply don’t know how many people are out there.”
With the nearest shelters to the area located in Bend, it’s not a matter of the number of beds available or the space in shelters in Central Oregon, said Chris Clouart, Managing Director at Bethlehem Inn. “They’re not just going to come here,” he said. “The structure we and other service providers insist on, those people may not want to engage. Their decisions and situations might make them go somewhere else, go where no one is looking. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7829, firstname.lastname@example.org