The city of Bend now has a staffer dedicated to homelessness and equity issues.
Her name is Shelly Smith, and her job is to connect the city with other efforts to train elected officials to be more open-minded and support efforts to help the homeless, based on direction from the City Council.
“My job is really to build on what (the City Council has) already started, and put some framework around it,” Smith said.
The position, which was created when another senior policy analyst left earlier this year, was designed to fill a gap, City Manager Eric King said. While different people have worked on homeless and equity issues in different capacities in the past, there has never been one, dedicated point-person.
“I think a lot of folks just come to the city,” King said. “Sometimes, there’s a challenge going on in the community, and (people’s) entry point is the City Council. ... We have to respond, and we do want to be responsive, but we don’t have the services.”
And as the city continues to grow, figuring out the city’s role in addressing social issues is critical, City Councilor Bruce Abernethy said.
“Quite frankly, (there’s) an ongoing tension between whether the city should only focus on core services, or as we grow ... focus on how to adapt and how to be responsive,” Abernethy said. “I view this position as an effective way of trying to be responsive to our citizens.”
Before coming to the city in October, Smith, 51, worked for 10 years at KIDS Center, a child abuse intervention center in Bend, , where she was most recently its executive director. Before that, she worked with homeless youth in Seattle.
Smith said she decided to work for the city because she saw an opportunity to use the skills she honed at KIDS Center — connecting several agencies to solve problems together, but on a broader scale.
“If we can engage family systems earlier ... then you can help build better supports for that child growing up,” Smith said. “Then, they don’t ever end up homeless, or (aren’t) at risk for further abuse.”
Some parts of Smith’s job are pretty tangible. Take Juniper Ridge, for example: Earlier this fall, the city announced its plans to start moving the people who camp on the land in Northeast Bend off the property due to fire concerns.
In response, Smith developed a list of resources for city staffers to hand out so people know where they can go after they are evicted.
She is also charged with helping develop a plan for $450,000 in city funds meant to hire staff and connect people in need with services that can help them.
Other aspects of the job are more about finding ways to support efforts being done by others. The warming center, for example is not a city function, but instead a coordinated effort by the Homelessness Leadership Coalition.
Smith will also help coordinate diversity training for elected officials in Bend. The city is contracting with Allyship, a group tasked with bringing a diverse set of voices to the table to shape what that training looks like.
“I think there is this general concern, as we are a fast-growing city, that growth is not benefiting everyone equally,” King said. “We want to be making sure (that) how we do business is influenced by all voices.”
How “success” for addressing equity and homelessness is measured is still to be determined, King said. Measuring the council’s success with these issues is much different than other council goals, like housing.
But Smith and King feel like this is a good place to start.
“It all ties back to our core services. What we don’t want to do is treat this...as a separate program,” King said. “We want to infuse it into our culture.”