As the city of Bend and Deschutes County invest an unprecedented amount of time and money to tackle homelessness, the majority of the Redmond City Council has made its position clear: Funding to address homelessness should not come from the city.
Since early August, the City Council has considered investing nearly $1 million of its allocated American Rescue Plan Act funds to help three nonprofit organizations open homeless shelters in Redmond. While there appears to be consensus that the shelters are needed, the city has asked the county to provide the financial support instead.
Meanwhile, a vote to decide whether or not to fund the projects has been delayed while the divided council argued over the city’s role in a solution. The process has created confusion, and one of the nonprofit organizations withdrew its request for funding.
Redmond Mayor George Endicott told The Bulletin he hopes a final vote will come at a meeting later this month.
“I think that our funding should be for the fundamental city functions, and I get very nervous about trying to start down a path where we’re pursuing social programs because where does it end?” Endicott said.
“What ends up happening is that your priorities get skewed after a while,” he said. “I believe in public safety, public health, infrastructure and economic development. If we start diverting from those then the money starts getting diluted.”
Advocates for the homeless say they are dismayed by the city’s position.
“We need shelter here in Redmond,” said Bob Bohac, the outreach director for Jericho Road, a nonprofit. “And this delay is, I think, unconscionable in terms of the people who are out there in need of shelter right now.”
The Redmond City Council, in a vote in early August, narrowly supported putting $2.93 million in federal relief funds toward the relocation and expansion of its police station and the creation of two homeless shelters and a managed camp.
Bethlehem Inn, a nonprofit that runs a shelter in Bend, is converting a downtown Redmond hotel into a high-barrier homeless shelter, meaning someone needs to be sober to stay there. It is expected to open in October. The shelter is primarily funded through a state-funded Project Turnkey grant, and the city was expected to match $450,000 given by Deschutes County.
The city was also expected to provide about $181,500 to the Oasis Village, a project in part orchestrated by Jericho Road to create a managed camp where people can legally camp. Another $300,000 from the city was expected to go to Shepherd’s House Ministries, a nonprofit seeking to open a low-barrier shelter in the city.
But the council changed its position in late August when it was expected to make a budget adjustment to direct $2 million to the city’s police station, and $930,000 to the homeless shelters. Councilor Jay Patrick, who supported the plan in early August, changed his vote and council asked the nonprofit organizations to prepare more information for the council.
Shepherd’s House Ministries withdrew its request for funding on Sept. 2. The other nonprofits came prepared to a meeting Tuesday night when the council voted 5-2 to invest $2 million into the city’s police station. In two separate votes, the council also voted 4-3 to table decisions on funding the Bethlehem Inn shelter and Oasis Village.
In the meantime, Endicott said the council will wait to hear from the county on whether it will fund the homeless shelters.
Tony DeBone, the chairman of the Deschutes County Commission, told The Bulletin the county will make a decision on whether to provide more funding for Bethlehem Inn later this month.
“We thought we were doing this in partnership with the city of Redmond,” DeBone said . He said the county put $450,000 toward the project expecting the city would match the investment.
“The building’s been purchased, contractors are working — money needs to be provided to complete the project, and the winter is coming,” DeBone said. “We want to see that facility open and functioning at full capacity as soon as we can.”
Oasis Village, he said, is a separate conversation. He said the county will be an advocate for the project at the very least.
Several people spoke in favor of funding Bethlehem Inn and the Oasis Village on Tuesday night. Bethlehem Inn, Shephard’s House Ministries, Housing For All and St. Charles Health System wrote letters in support of Oasis Village.
Rick Russell, the lead pastor at Mountain View Fellowship in Redmond, also signed a letter of support with nine other Redmond churches and clergy.
“We have a lot of partners ready to come to the table here,” Russell said during the meeting. “We’re not asking the city to do everything, but we are asking the city to do something.”
Gwenn Wysling, the executive director of Bethlehem Inn, told The Bulletin that while the delays are disappointing, she is hopeful the funding will come through.
“All of the nonprofits that are assisting folks are also really helping to alleviate some of the strain on law enforcement and emergency room visits and things like that,” Wysling said. “We play an important part in mitigating harm in our community.”
David Notari, the director of development for Shepherd’s House Ministries, said the nonprofit withdrew its request for funding because it did not want to be in the middle of the tense conversations happening among the City Council.
“We don’t line up on sides. That’s just not who we are,” Notari said. “We welcome the support of the City Council and the city of Redmond. We hope to be able to partner with them. Whether that’s financial or not really isn’t critical. We’re doing what we’re doing because we know the city of Redmond has great needs in the area of the unhoused, of those who are struggling with addiction and homelessness.”