For the first time, Bend will have someone to ensure the city is a more diverse, equitable and accessible place.
Her name is Anna Allen, and in her new role as equity and inclusion director, she is charged with making sure the diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility goals set by the Bend City Council are addressed.
“My role ... is to ensure we are walking out those values and they’re not just words on paper,” Allen said.
The position was born out of a recommendation from a taskforce last year, said City Manager Eric King. The city’s budget committee officially adopted the position this year.
“Equity is at the center of everything we’re doing, and we want to make sure we are resourcing that philosophy and we have staff that ensures that, as we are growing, all voices in Bend are heard,” King said.
Shelly Smith, a senior policy analyst who was hired in 2019 to, in part, help advance the city’s diversity initiatives, is being shifted to focus more on the issue of homelessness, King said.
Before coming to Bend, Allen, 32, worked as a youth advocate for children of color until she became the policy and engagement adviser to Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. Her role there was to conduct outreach with communities that are often underserved, Allen said.
There, she developed a racial impact assessment tool, which essentially allows local governments to assess the impact a proposed policy could have — positive or negative — on a particular community.
For example, at her previous position, the office of sustainability wanted to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of electric ones.
Allen’s assessment tool forced the government to pause on moving forward until assessing how the change in leaf blowers would impact landscaping contractors, who Allen noted were largely owned by Latinos.
The next step sought to devise a plan on how to mitigate the impacts, like finding ways to cover costs of the change, or a plan to translate materials into Spanish to communicate the change.
Allen has similar goals for the city of Bend. In her new job, Allen will be charged with coordinating with the Human Rights and Equity Commission to ensure the city is making progress toward equity-focused goals.
In general, that spans between internal work, like improving the city’s hiring and retention practices to work that bridges the gap between the city and diverse communities in Bend that often haven’t been represented in civic processes.
That means removing barriers that currently exist, Allen said. For example, Allen and members of the Human Rights and Equity Commission are currently looking at ways the city’s website can be more accessible to more people, like changing font types and size for people who are visually impaired, or making the website more intuitive for people wanting to engage on a certain topic.
“If we are saying we are wanting to put community at the forefront, then it takes these steps to authentically engage with them,” Allen said.
Allen said she is motivated to do this work because she knows firsthand the difference it can make. As a member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribe in Idaho, Allen said she is no stranger to facing structural racism.
In her younger years, Allen said her family was nomadic, largely not by choice, and faced being homeless. Allen said she was in and out of correctional facilities, and saw how institutions failed members of her family, who struggled with mental illness and battled addictions.
She also got to experience firsthand what it meant to be able access certain services to improve her life. She hopes to make accessing everyday services easier for people like her.
“I’m a success not only because of my natural grit ... but also access to programming and services specific to Native Americans. Those programs and services gave me the tools to survive at the time and now thrive,” she said. “But I still look back and think about so many moments if something would have been slightly different in a service I was receiving how it would have just catapulted me even further.”