St. Vincent de Paul in Bend is transforming an empty lot behind its food bank on Third Street into a 10-unit village for homeless people in need of a temporary shelter. Each unit will be about 100 square feet with a window, bed, small table and chair, but the structures will offer homeless people a stable location, said Gary Hewitt, Bend’s St. Vincent de Paul manager.
“It’s meant to be a first step out of homelessness,” Hewitt said. “We simply want to help somebody who is unhoused for whatever reason.”
The nonprofit social service agency was awarded a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to start construction on the homeless village project. The local agency hopes to raise at least another $150,000 to fully fund the project.
Construction is expected to begin in May, and the 10 units could be completed by the fall, Hewitt said.
A house next to the empty lot will be turned into a resource center for the residents at the village. The center will offer internet access and a space to meet with advocates and get referred to various programs in the region, Hewitt said.
“If you are living in this tiny sleeping unit, you are going to need a place to get online and look for jobs or sign up for Social Security and disability,” Hewitt said.
Each resident will stay no longer than 18 to 24 months. The goal is for them to build a rental history and use the time at the village to find permanent housing, Hewitt said.
Hewitt is looking for volunteers to become coaches for the residents and help them navigate some of the hurdles of homelessness, such as finding health care, getting a driver’s license and finding employment.
The support of a coach and a shelter will be a huge benefit for the residents, Hewitt said.
“Most of the problem is you don’t have a place to rebuild from,” Hewitt said. “You don’t have a safe and secure place to exist.”
The 10-unit village is next door to the Old Mill & Suites Motel, which the Bend City Council had considered turning into a year-round homeless shelter until the city discovered significant foundational and structural issues on the property.
While the city continues to look for a permanent shelter, local homeless advocates are excited to see smaller projects start to crop up in the region, such as the 10-unit village and the Central Oregon Veterans Village on property north of Bend.
James Cook, a board member with the Homeless Leadership Coalition, which serves Central Oregon, said several factors this past year, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing need for permanent winter shelters, raised awareness of homelessness in the region. More local governments are prioritizing the issue, and organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul are taking action, Cook said.
“This is a time when I think a lot of progress could be made if we use all of those resources wisely,” Cook said.
Still, the 10-unit village is just one piece of a larger puzzle, Cook said. The region needs to establish permanent shelters and housing after people leave the villages, he said.
“We are not going to do all of these things and solve the problem tomorrow,” Cook said. “It’s going to take time.”
Megan Perkins, a Bend city councilor, said she is optimistic about projects like the 10-unit village, and it shows how different organizations are working together to address the issue of homelessness.
“I love that they are doing some micro-units there,” Perkins said. “And obviously our service providers are doing so much in the community.”
Perkins also points to a proposed navigation center, which would be a centralized location in Bend for homeless people to receive services. The city is expecting to receive $2.5 million from the state Legislature to fund the center.
Perkins describes the various projects as an all-hands-on-deck approach between city officials and service providers.
“Everybody is doing something right now,” Perkins said, “because we know we have a big problem that we need to solve as a city.”