Residents who live in the vicinity of Juniper Ridge are protesting the idea of a managed outdoor homeless shelter being hosted on the land, mainly citing concerns about safety and their general discomfort with being near unhoused people.
But the Bend City Council remains unswayed and councilors have called the community’s viewpoint disheartening.
“Listening to people in our community not be able to put their own privilege aside to serve the greater community is embarrassing as a leader,” City Councilor Rita Schenkelberg said.
Earlier this month, the city of Bend suggested a 1-acre parcel of industrial land in northeast Bend, often referred to as “Crusher Site No.2,” as a place that could host a managed homeless outdoor shelter.
An outdoor shelter could mean anything from a place for people to legally and safely park their vehicles or pitch tents, with amenities like portable toilets, to a more formal village with tiny homes. The shelter would be professionally managed by a homeless services provider, and residents chosen for the shelter would likely have to follow community guidelines and rules in order to stay.
The city hopes to receive proposals from providers to see if this parcel, or another piece of city-owned land, would be suitable to help house Bend’s growing homeless population.
But several nearby residents who live near Juniper Ridge oppose the idea. Many cited concerns around an assumed increase in crime, its general proximity to a middle school and fears of fire breaking out next to Suterra, a chemical-processing plant.
Thien Ho, a spokesperson for Suterra, declined to comment on whether the company had an opinion about the proposed outdoor shelter site.
Many of the residents characterized the issue of homelessness as one of drug addiction and mental illness. Some argued the majority of homeless people are from out of town anyway, which data from Central Oregon’s Point-in-Time count disputes.
The count, performed in January, found an overwhelming number of the nearly 1,100 people who reported being homeless have lived in Central Oregon for more than three years.
But the overall message was clear: No homeless people near neighborhoods, schools or parks.
“You can’t expect people to live next to the homeless,” said Allison Eilerman, a Bend resident. “It’s not fair.”
David Schwarz, an attorney representing Cascade Village, a manufactured housing planned retirement community for residents 55 and older, also criticized the city’s lack of notice and clarity around the proposal, and argued the residents of the village are particularly “susceptible” to crimes like home invasion.
“While effective solutions to the City’s homeless problem are needed, concentrating the homeless population at Crusher Site No. 2 inevitably maximizes associated safety risks and negative impacts and places them all on the shoulders of but a few of Bend’s most vulnerable citizens,” Schwarz wrote in a letter to the city.
Schwarz also argues a homeless camp is not something that can be legally put at Juniper Ridge.
Mary Winters, the city’s attorney, said in an email the city’s safe parking code is consistent with how many cities operate their safe parking programs and that the city is “confident we can operate a program legally.”
This is not the first time the city has faced backlash after announcing a possible location for a managed homeless shelter. More than a year ago, when the city proposed putting one on a different part of Juniper Ridge, Boyd Acres Neighborhood residents protested.
Other locations, such as land off Ninth Street and off Murphy Road and U.S. Highway 97, have also faced opposition, all for similar concerns around safety.
Councilor Megan Perkins said she has found the comments from the community “disheartening.”
“I think there are ways to express fears and work through problems together, but we have to stop dehumanizing our neighbors,” Perkins told The Bulletin Thursday. “That’s step one.”
Perkins said she has yet to receive any suggestions for another location in town from the people who oppose the idea.
“That’s my biggest worry, that we just say ‘no’ and we don’t work on solutions together,” Perkins said.
From her point of view, much of what people are fearing is driven by what people are seeing when homeless camps aren’t managed, Perkins said.
Regardless of the backlash, Perkins said she and the other councilors are united in the vision to find a way to give homeless people a safer housing alternative quickly.
“I think we are all willing to take the abuse and hear the comments and read the emails because we know this is the right thing,” Perkins said.