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Dozens of people camp at a homeless community on Hunnell Road in Bend in March.

A new organization in Bend wants to refocus the conversation about homelessness to include enforcing laws in the interest of public safety, but the group’s lack of transparency has raised concerns about its intentions.

It’s called the Bend Humanity Coalition, and its focus is mainly asking the City Council to shift the policy discussion to enforce laws, like littering or open container laws, for people who live on public property in Bend, according to Jeff Eager, who is a political consultant for the coalition.

The group argues not enforcing those kinds of laws makes the city unsafe for housed and unhoused people.

“Allowing people to camp on public property is not accepting and it’s not humane. It’s dangerous, and the City Council’s current hands-off approach serves no one well,” the coalition’s website states.

But who makes up the coalition, or where the money comes from to support it, is hidden from the public. That’s because its members have chosen to stay anonymous, Eager said, other than being identified broadly as “small business owners, parents and retirees.”

Eager, a former Bend city councilor and mayor, said the wish to remain anonymous comes from not wanting to face public backlash by being associated with the coalition.

The only named person is Tim Baggs, who appears to be the owner of the boating retailer Lifestyle Wake and is listed as the president of the coalition, according to a filing with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. Baggs did not respond to a request for comment.

The lack of transparency around the coalition, which was officially announced Friday, has raised red flags for some homeless advocates and city councilors, who question the intentions and purpose of the coalition.

James Cook, a member of the Homeless Leadership Coalition, said he found it concerning that the group appears to have not had any interaction with any of the homeless service providers in Central Oregon, and does not propose any actions that would “address the root cause of our homeless problem.”

The lack of transparency, along with the fact the organization is a 501(c)(4), also leads Cook, as well as some city councilors, to believe the purpose of the coalition is less about enacting change and more about injecting the issue of homelessness into the next city council election happening in 2022.

“That’s generally a sign we’re talking about a political organization that’s hiding behind a well sounding name,” Cook said Monday. “I’d love to be wrong about this.”

A 501(c)(4) is a nonprofit that must be designed to promote a social welfare issue, and may engage in some political activity as long as it’s not the primary function, according to the IRS.

Councilor Melanie Kebler said she has no issue with a coalition forming to help organize public opinion, and cited Central Oregon LandWatch as an organization that performs a similar function for environmental and land use related topics.

But the difference, Kebler said, is that someone can go to Central Oregon LandWatch’s website and see who they are.

“I think it’s very important to know who is putting these groups together and to know what their motivation and agenda is,” Kebler said Monday. “Who is deciding this messaging?”

Councilor Megan Perkins called the coalition “performative” because it offered no real solutions to homelessness.

“To just wish away the problem isn’t going to get us anywhere,” Perkins said. “And to my view, (it) is pretty insulting to the service providers, who are out there day after day trying to get people in safe environments.”

Eager said the organization came about when a group of Bend residents who had been discussing homeless issues in Bend approached him to start this effort.

“I understand that (the anonymity) will be a criticism,” Eager said. “The fact of the matter is this is a lawful means of issue advocacy, and there are a lot of people in this community who have jobs or otherwise don’t feel comfortable putting themselves in the public spotlight.”

Eager rebuffed claims that the organization is only there to set up an election issue, and said that if that were the intent, a political action committee would have been set up to support candidates.

“We’re trying to bring a point of view that quite frankly has not, in an organized, fashion been presented,” Eager said. “It would be nice if people just met the arguments head on and then deal with those arguments on their face value rather than wondering what we’re really up to...What we’re really up to is trying to affect the policy discussion around this issue.”

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(14) comments

BuckeyeDuck

Hmmm, Mr. Eager says the folks involved here want to remain anonymous because they don't want to face backlash for their actions (won't take the heat). Interesting since we've seen so much backlash from the right side of the fence with protests outside of officials houses, screaming at officials at council, school board and commission meetings on a national basis. Putting out the same message here as the gang of four from the school board election. We'll be secretive.

Gary Mendoza

so says a guy who posts under a pseudonym

BuckeyeDuck

Like the majority on sites like this. They're going to be in the public eye. For all we know, your name is Clem Kadiddlehopper in the real world.

gjbbailey

Obey the laws…. Consequences matter… I prefer to remain anonymous

Gary Mendoza

The “concerns about transparency” expressed by homeless service providers and their supporters on the Council is an obvious ruse. Their real concern is the rise of public disgust with the spreading homeless squalor they support.

MF

It appears anonymity and lack of interaction with the public, including local media, has become the trademark of the right. This “non-profit” is following the playbook of the recent slate of right wingers on the recent School Board election. They refused media interviews and public candidate forums in favor of private (secret?) fundraisers. This is a disconcerting trend for democracy.

Thomas Who

The last thing the city council and the homeless advocacy nonprofit groups wants in for another nonprofit group coming in and and advocating for the enforcement of laws, and for the rights of taxpayers and citizens.

The real question the city council should be asking is who makes up groups like Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the Oregon Peacekeepers, and where does the money come from to support them, and why is it hidden from the public.

Skittish

The homeless advocacy industry need the homeless in order to collect donations and generate grants. It's in their best interest to have a permanent homeless adult population that they can coddle with emotions and the ones engaged in "performative" behaviors. Tolerating dysfunctional behavior and not enforcing basic rules doesn't help anyone. The homeless are a collective of a wide array of people and no one solution will help all of them as demonstrated by the City of Bend. Some just can't be helped at all and others need specific tools or resources to get back on their feet. This task is likely too complicated for a public entity tasked typically with providing emergency services and utilities. Homelessness is a very complicated issue that will take vast resources to correct to a modest degree and will never be eradicated no matter how much money is spent.

MF

Thomas Who, allow me to finish your thought. Don’t forget to add the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, Q-Anoners, Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, Ku Klux Klaners, Boogaloo and other Capitol insurrectionists as well as the hundreds of other alt right hate groups followed by the FBI in America.

Skittish

There is a key difference you failed to mention. KKK et al. are not considered mainstream by conservatives. The racist and fascist groups BLM and antifa are welcomed by illiberals and the democratic party. Only the extreme left believes groups like the KKK are a legitimate constituent of conservatives, but this only lends to my perception of how out of touch illiberals/democrats are with reality.

BuckeyeDuck

Bwahahahaha

gjbbailey

Including the FBI as Jan 6 insurrectionists.

Pnwhof

I doubt these groups have non profit status per IRS classification!

501c4 is the red flag here and the indicator of intention compared to 501c3.

62328

What are your concerns? Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) provides for the exemption of two very different types of organizations with their own distinct qualification requirements. They are:

Social welfare organizations: Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, and

Local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person(s) in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational or recreational purposes.

Homeowners associations and volunteer fire companies may be recognized as exempt as social welfare organizations if they meet the requirements for exemption. Organizations that engage in substantial lobbying activities sometimes also are classified as social welfare organizations.

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