Two separate projects that would create organized transitional housing for Central Oregon’s growing homeless population are being developed.
A proposal for one of the projects was shared with the Bend City Council recently by Councilor Bruce Abernethy, who said he has been discussing ways to ease homelessness in Central Oregon with local developer Todd Taylor.
The proposal starts with a research phase, which proponents say could lead to creating an established community where people without housing could live instead of in the woods or parked on the streets. The goal would be to help them transition into permanent housing.
“What would happen if we could in fact build a homeless camp that actually worked?” Abernethy said.
Abernethy said he was pulled into the conversation about 10 months ago by Taylor, who he said approached him and Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel to figure out a way to help the region’s homeless population.
Brainstorming led the group to consider creating a permanent camp, where people in tents or RVs could legally stay. The camp would have centralized services to help people find housing, jobs and other resources.
“This is something that would be a tangible and visible improvement from how many people are living now,” Abernethy said.
Taylor said he is personally interested in trying to address homelessness in Central Oregon because he feels it is a problem often discussed without any plans for solutions in place. Taylor is personally funding a consultant to learn more about homelessness in the area, and is paying for a small team of people to travel around the country and visit cities to explore other homeless housing models.
“Let’s quit talking about it and let’s figure out how to participate,” Taylor said.
By midsummer, Taylor hopes the research done by the consultant will lead to several options that could be pitched to the community. The goal would be to have funding from local businesses, as well as from public entities.
“There’s not a quick fix, or right or wrong answer,” Taylor said. “The growth that we’ve experienced is exponential. We’re pegged as one of the top 10 regions in the United States that is growing, and with that comes a higher need.”
Plans are also in the works to build transitional housing for veterans in Deschutes County.
Erik Tobiason, of the Bend Heroes Foundation, said the nonprofit was looking for a new project last spring and became inspired by a shelter community in Clackamas County that helps homeless veterans get back on their feet.
“It was like, ‘Hey, this is actually working, why don’t we do this? We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,’” Tobiason said.
The vision is to find land in Bend and put 15 tiny homes on it for veterans and call it a veteran’s village by this fall. There would be a centralized community space with a kitchen and support services provided by the nonprofit Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, which would aim to help residents eventually move into permanent housing.
“Everyone has a unique issue,” Tobiason said. “You need a case manager for each individual to help us understand what we need to do to help.”
While Tobiason said he has already identified 15 homes that could work for the project, finding land and working around city code has been a challenge. Tobiason is working with the city of Bend to adjust the code so these homes could be permitted without having their own kitchens and bathrooms, since these features would be provided centrally in a community building.
Currently, the code does not allow for this, Tobiason said.
Tobiason estimates the foundation will need about $1 million to get the project off the ground. He is prepared to fundraise — an exercise with which he is familiar as someone who works for a nonprofit — but hopefully the city of Bend will also invest, he said.
“Ideally, this becomes a priority (for the city),” Tobiason said. “I’d like to see some public funding sources so you have a line item in the budget and (the village) is taken care of on an ongoing basis.”
There is a way to go before the village can come to fruition, Tobiason said, but he is motivated to get homes on the ground before next winter. He doesn’t want veterans spending another winter hiding in the woods.
“It’s not right for people to be homeless,” Tobiason said. “Veterans served our country. They sacrificed for us. We need to take care of them. It’s just that simple.”