Workers contracted by the city of Bend began clearing out a large homeless camp Wednesday morning on Emerson Avenue where safety and public health concerns had fueled community discussion over its impact on the area.
Just one person was at the camp when the workers arrived.
What remained were large piles of personal belongings and trash surrounded by abandoned tents behind the Les Schwab Tire Center. Workers picked through the piles, throwing away trash and stashing possessions for storage. Bend Police officers set up a barricade around the camp, and several officers stood watch over the sweep.
The road was home to about 38 camps and had steadily grown in size since the start of the year. The city posted an evacuation notice Thursday. Social welfare advocates estimate 50 people were displaced by the sweep Wednesday.
“There will be some touch-up tomorrow, but things are mostly finished,” said Grant Burke, the city’s facilities manager, Wednesday afternoon. “There was lots of soiled clothing. Lots of defecation. Tents filled with mold and maggots. But not all of them. Some of them were clean.”
About six members of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, a social justice organization, arrived to protest the sweep. They had a table set up with water bottles, doughnuts and other snacks.
“We heard from one of the camp residents that it was still dark when police came and started hassling people to get out,” said Luke Richter, leader of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers. “I guess that was the best -case scenario in their heads, to warn people to get off the street before this is all happening.”
One protester was perched on top of a ladder, while others stood behind the barricade. Some shook the barricade and taunted officers, who announced that anyone who crossed the barricade would be arrested.
The only incident during the sweep came when a shirtless man with long black hair told an officer he needed to use one of the portable toilets in the camp. After officers denied entry, the man, later identified as 32-year-old Darren Hiatt, jumped over the barricade. He ran into the camp toward the toilets, and was quickly tackled and arrested by five officers.
“This is what happens when you try to go to the bathroom in Bend, Oregon!” yelled one protester who declined to provide his name.
“He’s unarmed. Why are there so many of you?” yelled another protester who declined to provide her name.
Protesters, including Richter, crossed the barricade and yelled at officers to release the man. Protesters who crossed the barricade were led by officers back to the other side, and Hiatt was escorted, handcuffed, through the camp to a police cruiser.
Hiatt was booked in Deschutes County jail on charges of second degree criminal trespass, interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest.
According to Richter, Hiatt is a resident of the camp. The bathrooms Hiatt wanted to use were set up by volunteers in an effort to keep the camp clean and to quell sanitation concerns from neighbors.
During the cleanup, several homeless advocates gathered outside Bend’s first long-term shelter run by Shepherd’s House Ministries, about two blocks south of Emerson Avenue.
The advocates represented Shepherd’s House, Homeless Leadership Coalition, Deschutes County, The Family Kitchen and REACH, a homeless service organization. They showed up to offer support to any homeless person who was displaced by the cleanup. The shelter is closed during the day, but Shepherd’s House brought a van full of snacks and toiletries.
“We are here in case anybody does need extra support,” said Colleen Thomas, homeless outreach coordinator for Deschutes County and chair of the Homeless Leadership Coalition.
A few homeless people from Emerson Avenue showed up, but many had already left the area.
Thomas and the other advocates spent the past few weeks helping the homeless people collect their belongings and find other places to stay. Most had nowhere to go.
“Our hope is to continue to know where folks ended up so we can stay in touch with them,” Thomas said, “and make sure they have extra tents and sleeping bags if they need it.”
The city has long-term plans to purchase the Bend Value Inn and transform it into a shelter and find a location for a navigation center, where homeless people can go to receive services. Another plan includes finding publicly owned land around the county to create a managed camp.
None of those plans can help the homeless people evicted from Emerson Avenue, the advocates said.
Stacey Witte, the executive director of the homeless nonprofit REACH, said the situation shines a light on the gaps in options currently available to homeless people. They can legally camp in the Deschutes National Forest for two weeks or find spaces in the local shelters, but otherwise they have to find other places like Emerson Avenue.
“We keep moving this problem,” Witte said, “and it’s costing so much more money.”