Homeless camp removal

Gregg Lelacheur sits under the overpass as an ODOT crew removes his campsite Monday from a houseless community at Revere Avenue and U.S. Highway 97 in Bend. 

The Deschutes County Commission and Bend City Council decided to explore the concept of a joint office for homelessness, a first step toward the idea that was pitched by two city councilors earlier this fall.

On Thursday, the two public bodies in a joint meeting indicated general support for looking into making an office that would coordinate and strategize the region’s response to a growing homeless population.

In the past two years, the number of homeless residents has increased roughly 13% each year, with more than 1,000 people counted in this year’s point-in-time homeless count in January.

“This is our issue, and this issue requires our leadership,” City Councilor Anthony Broadman said in the meeting Thursday.

Specifics about the joint office, like how much money it would require or what exact operations it would be in charge of, have yet to be determined.

Over the next couple of months, city and county staff will create a conceptual plan outlining the details of what a joint office could be and how much it could cost, according to City Manager Eric King. Other cities in Deschutes County would be invited to join as well, said County Administrator Nick LeLack.

But in a broad sense, local leaders envision the office will be in charge of developing strategy, as well as coordinating funding and communication for all things related to homelessness in Central Oregon, according to Brittani Manzo, who facilitates the city of Bend’s emergency homelessness task force. Multnomah County has opened a similar office.

The task force, which is made up of dozens of homeless service providers, suggested these parameters because there is a lack of coordination between local governments, and because it would be helpful to have an office charged with identifying gaps in the system and helping fix them.

“A lot of communities have set out to end homelessness,” Manzo said. “What we’ve seen happen is we have not aligned resources to that goal.”

Councilor Rita Schenkelberg said she sees the office as a way to make it easier for homeless service providers to do their jobs.

“As elected leaders we can remove the barriers of land use and other pieces that make it easier for the service providers to provide services,” Schenkelberg said.

Though ultimately supportive of exploring the idea, county Commissioners Tony DeBone and Patti Adair appeared to have more reservations about the concept. DeBone wanted to know more about the vision of the office, and questioned how much it would cost.

DeBone also wondered if Central Oregon was feeling the worst of the homeless issue now, and if the problem would naturally get better over time with more neighborhoods being built and future urban growth boundary expansions adding to the buildable land inventory.

“Hopefully we’ll never be in this situation again,” DeBone said.

Councilor Barb Campbell said in response to DeBone that nothing would make her happier than not needing a joint office for homelessness in five years.

But at this moment, action needs to be taken, she said.

“We hope that this is the peak, but we don’t know that,” Campbell said. “So at this moment we need to be coordinating.”

Broadman argued having a joint office is the most fiscally responsible decision, because it would allow local governments to make sure dollars were being spent as efficiently as possible.

It’s not about how much money is spent, but how effectively it is used, Broadman said. He offered other cities like Seattle and Portland as examples of places that have failed at getting ahead of the problem effectively.

“We’re in an opportunity to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes,” Broadman said.

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Reporter: 541-633-2160,

bvisser@bendbulletin.com

(2) comments

Transitory Inflation

'“This is our issue, and this issue requires our leadership,” City Councilor Anthony Broadman said ...'

Explain it to me like I'm three: why is homelessness not a public health matter squarely sited w/ the county's charter?

Thomas Who

All tax payer funded city and county money given to non profit homeless advocacy groups should be tied to a reduction in homelessness. Maybe that's why cities like Seattle and Portland have failed to get ahead of the problem effectively.

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