Dozens of former and current Bend High School coaches have joined a growing chorus of residents who oppose a city proposal to establish a managed homeless camp off Ninth Street.
In a letter addressed to the Bend City Council and the Bend-La Pine School Board, the coaches expressed their concerns about the safety of students if a managed homeless camp were to be placed near Bend High and Bear Creek Elementary. The area where the camp is proposed is a corridor where children commute to and from school, and where athletes walk to get from the school to fields on 15th Street, according to the letter, which was released Friday.
“We support the Council’s goal for accessible and effective city government,” the letter states. “However, we believe the current decision to offer RV and tent camping in between the school campuses creates homeless opportunities at the expense of student safety.”
The property is one of two places the city is considering to place a managed homeless camp, which would host 15 to 25 people and be professionally managed by an organization familiar with homelessness.
Managed camps have grown in popularity in cities across the country as a way to help mitigate the consequences of homeless camps that pop up organically and as a better way to help homeless people by providing a stable living situation.
Roughly a week after the city’s announcement about the proposal at this property, dozens of residents, including the coaches, emailed the City Council asking the city to reconsider the location out of safety concerns, according to records obtained Friday afternoon by The Bulletin.
But the city and homeless service providers say many of the concerns people have about the camp can be mitigated by how it is managed.
Matt Craven, the head football coach at Bend High School, called the plan “deeply troubling.”
“It absolutely floors me that the Bend City Council is moving to put a homeless camp directly adjacent to an elementary school playground and Bend Senior High School,” he said.
Craven said he has heard from concerned parents, students, nearby property owners and business owners. He believes there will also be more pushback from educators, as teachers return to campus for the new school year.
“We believe this is a huge safety issue, and we would like the backing of the school district on this,” he said.
Craven and Lowell Norby, the high school’s athletic director, said there are laws against pornographic stores, marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores being within a certain proximity to schools and argue there should be similar rules for homeless camps.
“It’s disturbing to me that they chose that location,” Norby said.
City Councilor Barb Campbell said she understands people’s concerns, and that they are being considered in the decision to move forward with this property or not.
But Campbell said this camp would not be like the ones people have seen in town before, and that there are lots of ways to put parameters in place to address concerns. The camp would be monitored by a homeless service provider, and the city could put stipulations on who would be admitted into the camp.
Campbell said she personally imagines the camp in this area would be high-barrier, meaning people would have to be clean and sober to live there, and follow other community guidelines to be allowed to stay.
“We don’t have to open the door and say first come first serve,” she said.
Campbell said she is also sensitive to criticism the council has received about the proposal being in east Bend versus west Bend. She said the choice came down to the fact the city owns a lot more land on the east side of town, not because of a bias for the west part of the town.
“With this particular council, if we had property across the street from Summit High School, we’d be considering that property as well,” she said.
Colleen Thomas, the homeless services coordinator for Deschutes County, also said she understands people’s concerns, which is why it is in everyone’s best interest that this project is managed well.
“We have never had a managed camp in Central Oregon, and with that being said, I think there are some questions about how that is going to look,” she said.
Thomas said it is important to consider the safety of the people who would live in the camp, which has largely been left out of the conversation.
“It’s not just a free for all.There are going to be guidelines for individuals, so the community remains safe itself,” she said.
A call to Bend-La Pine Schools was not immediately returned Friday.