Dozens of homeless campers are being asked to leave Oregon Department of Transportation property in Bend this month.
Earlier this week, the department gave notices to homeless campers on ODOT property near Scandia RV Park and off the Colorado Avenue interchange near the Bend Parkway, said Peter Murphy, a spokesperson for the agency. More notices will be given to campers off Revere Avenue on Friday.
Murphy said the agency is giving campers a 10-day notice that site cleanups will be happening, but that the agency will be notifying campers they are trespassing at the end of 10 days.
In total, these actions will affect between three to four dozen camps between all the properties, he said.
“What happens on that day is yet to be determined,” Murphy said.
Throughout the pandemic, ODOT has mostly focused on cleaning up the camps on its properties instead of removing the people who occupy them.
But now the agency is concerned about the safety of campers as winter weather approaches, Murphy said. Concerns include gravel and debris falling down onto camps near the highway when plows come through, and ice-related car accidents.
“As we get closer to winter here, there are auto-related incidents that could happen in the area where many of these campers have located themselves,” he said.
When asked why this was a basis for removing people this winter but not last winter, Joel McCarroll, ODOT’s District 10 manager, said it is because the camps have grown significantly in size. McCarroll said he suspects the increase in campers was the result of the city of Bend removing homeless camps along Emerson Avenue this summer.
“We want to be responsive to the fact there are limited shelter beds, but we have our operational issues to deal with,” McCarroll said.
Another change is that these areas will soon be posted as no trespassing areas, McCarroll said. Currently, these areas only prohibit camping, but the public is still allowed to walk across or otherwise be on this land.
But once “no trespassing” signs are up, no one but ODOT workers will be allowed on the property at all, McCarroll said. ODOT will no longer have to provide the 10-day notice to someone on the property, and someone can be immediately removed from the property. Personal property from a camp would still be stored if the trespasser was camping, McCarroll said.
The motivation behind the change is to break the cycle of cleaning up camps to only have them reappear on ODOT property, McCarroll said.
“It’s basically to be able to move on and be done with it,” he said. “If we don’t do something different from a land management perspective, the camps will reappear.”
These decisions have drawn ire by some in the community, including the local activist group Central Oregon Peacekeepers, which on its Facebook page called for the city of Bend to direct its police force to not participate in removing campers.
“The campers are harming nobody, and they simply have nowhere else to go,” the post states. “You do not have the option of just blaming ODOT for these actions, because without participation from law enforcement they can’t destroy these camps.”
City Manager Eric King said Bend Police officers will only be on site if called to address “suspicious or criminal” activity.
“If (ODOT is) looking for general security, they would need to look elsewhere,” King said.
When asked by City Councilor Barb Campbell about Bend police’s role in these notifications, Police Chief Mike Krantz wrote in an email obtained by The Bulletin that police will not be ODOT’s security during cleanups, but that the department does have an obligation to respond when called.
“Our agreement, although not a City policy, is that we will not assist with camp cleanups or removal of camps,” Krantz wrote in the email sent on Tuesday. “We have clearly said that we will continue to provide service if we are called for safety issues or criminal matters.”