Most of the time, Janissa Reynolds is able to handle sleeping outside just fine.
Reynolds, 33, has lived in Bend off and on for the past year and a half, practicing what she describes as “guerrilla camping.” She has friends on the streets and gear she carries with her, and she knows where she can stay.
As winter creeps closer, she can feel the cold make her bones ache.
“I can do fine when it’s 30 and above, but when it gets to below that, it gets biting,” she said.
Reynolds joined about 20 other people, many of them fellow homeless Bend residents wearing oversized packs and carrying bedrolls, in a gathering Wednesday evening at Troy Field organized by Bend’s one existing cold-weather shelter, the Sagewood Sanctuary. They stood outside with flashlights and cups of chili on the drizzly night and tried to remind other Bend residents that there are people sleeping outside in all kinds of weather.
Reynolds is one of at least 787 homeless residents of Central Oregon, according to the Homeless Leadership Coalition’s 2018 count of people in shelters, transitional housing or without any kind of roof over their heads. The actual number of homeless people in the area is almost certainly higher because the annual count can miss people staying with friends or family, or people living outside who aren’t found by volunteers.
“Just like people don’t want to admit to a drug addiction, plenty of people don’t want to admit to being homeless,” said David Lynch, a formerly homeless Bend resident who now works at the Sagewood Sanctuary.
In Bend alone, volunteers counted 508 homeless people in January. The city’s largest homeless shelter, Bethlehem Inn, has space for 10 families and is working on replacing its 84-bed former motel that houses single residents with a new building that could accommodate 108 people a night. Another shelter, Shepherd’s House, provides beds for 30 homeless men and nine women.
Both shelters require guests to participate in long-term programs. In winter they provide more space for people to sleep temporarily.
Bend City Manager Eric King declares a weather emergency each year when temperatures fall below 25 degrees. That declaration allows existing shelters such as Bethlehem Inn to let more people in to sleep, and it clears the way for alternative shelters.
King has not yet declared a weather emergency, city spokeswoman Anne Aurand said. The National Weather Service forecasted Friday that nighttime temperatures would dip below 25 degrees this weekend before rising to the mid-30s next week.
For most of last winter, Bend went without a dedicated cold-weather shelter. The city allows churches or businesses to temporarily house people during the winter. It can’t compel property owners to provide space.
Finally, in February, a space opened in drug treatment facility Pfeifer & Associates. The Sagewood Sanctuary shelter inside the Pfeifer building on NW Greenwood Avenue can house about 25 people on freezing nights, said Larry Kogovsek, a longtime addiction counselor who previously ran the Family Kitchen and is now in charge of the Sagewood Sanctuary.
The Sagewood Sanctuary reopened in mid-November and will be open on nights when the temperature falls below 30 degrees. It opens at 8 p.m. and posts its schedule for each week on Facebook.
Reynolds was there the first night it opened and said in a Facebook post her experience there was similar to sleeping in a five-star hotel compared to sleeping outside. Simple things like having access to running water and heat make a huge difference, especially on nights when it rains or snows, she said.
“On rainy nights, you’ll want to be able to sleep under a roof of sorts,” she said.
The Sagewood Sanctuary is a low-barrier shelter, which means it doesn’t screen for alcohol or drugs or exclude people with criminal records. However, it does prohibit using or dealing drugs on the site and will kick people out if they’re disruptive.
It seeks to treat guests like the adults they are, Kogovsek said. Lynch, who stays nights as a monitor, said it helps to have homeless or formerly homeless people involved in the management of shelters and services.
“They live with each other 24/7 on the street,” he said. “When they’re holding each other accountable, they have to face the music.”
The Sagewood Sanctuary is looking for a larger space to provide more winter beds, Kogovsek said. It’s also working on finding space to develop a maintained camp that can shelter homeless residents in tents while providing services.
Property owners who want to provide space for a shelter need approval from Bend’s fire department. They can contact the fire department’s prevention division at 541-322-6309 for more information.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org