The Redmond City Council reversed course this week in its plan to help fund three nonprofit organizations addressing homelessness, but there is hope support will instead come from Deschutes County.
In a 4-3 vote in early August, the City Council narrowly approved using $2.93 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the city’s new public safety complex and three homeless-related projects.
The council was expected to make a budget adjustment Tuesday night to direct $2 million to the relocation and expansion of the city’s police station, and $930,000 to help fund the creation of two homeless shelters in the city and a managed camp that would allow homeless residents to legally park an RV or camp.
But Councilor Jay Patrick, who in early August voted in favor of allocating funds to the homeless-related projects, changed his vote during a special meeting Tuesday, and the resolution for a budget adjustment failed 4-3.
Since the meeting in early August, Patrick received more than 50 emails, including several that were abrasive and threatening, and most of which were in opposition to using city funds to support nonprofits, he said.
“I feel there’s some merit to the emails that were sent to me,” Patrick said, adding that he would like to have a meeting with Deschutes County commissioners to hear presentations from the three nonprofits to clarify how the money will be used. He also would like to ask the county to consider using its federal relief funds to support the shelters.
About $450,000 of the federal funding was expected to go to Bethlehem Inn, a nonprofit that is converting a hotel into a high-barrier homeless shelter. The shelter is primarily funded through a state-funded Project Turnkey grant, but Redmond’s contribution would match $450,000 given by Deschutes County to help close a gap.
Another $300,000 would go to Shepherd’s House Ministries, a nonprofit seeking to open a low-barrier shelter in the city. The rest of the money would go toward the Oasis Village, a managed camp that serves as a low barrier shelter, led in part by the nonprofit Jericho Road.
The proposal to use a portion of the federal relief funds for the shelters came from Councilor Ed Fitch, who was one of three councilors on a subcommittee that helped decide how the money should be allocated. Local governments, including the city of Bend and Deschutes County, have made similar investments in reducing homelessness.
On Tuesday night, Fitch, argued Redmond has a growing homeless problem that needs to be addressed. He said that having low-barrier shelter options is important because it enables the city to have more control over its parks and public spaces where people camp.
Several court rulings currently limit how cities can address and enforce camping in public places. Because of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Martin v. Boise in 2018, cities and counties cannot ban camping in public places unless there is adequate shelter space available for people to go to instead.
However, Councilor Krisanna Clark-Endicott called the decision to fund the projects premature. She added that the city does not receive money to address homelessness and therefore should not use relief funds for the projects.
“I think the projects are amazing,” said Clark-Endicott, who is the mayor’s wife. “It’s just not the purpose and function of city government. And if we have a shortfall, someone isn’t going to come along and fund us for our shortfall. We will have to raise taxes on our citizens.”
Mayor George Endicott said that while he supports the Bethlehem Inn, he is more dubious of the other projects and wants more information. Councilor Shannon Wedding said she wants more detail on the sustainability of the projects and assurance the nonprofits will not seek more money from the city in the future.
“It’s a capital investment to allow nonprofits to be more effective to deal with these issues so we don’t have to,” Fitch said. “If we don’t do this, we’re the ones who are going to have to deal with the homeless. We’re the ones that are going to have to say we don’t have any low-barrier shelters, so we have to let you sleep in the parks.”
Patrick told The Bulletin his hope is the county will give the city of Redmond $1 million of the $38 million the county received in federal relief funds to fund the projects. When asked if he will vote in favor of supporting the projects if the county does not provide additional funding, he said he has not decided, but is leaning toward yes.
Tony DeBone, the chairman of the Deschutes County Commission, told The Bulletin the County Commission is willing to sit down with the Redmond City Council and discuss the investments.
The county could fund Redmond projects that would in turn free up city dollars that could be used for the shelters, DeBone said. The county would also consider funding the shelters if Redmond has other projects it wants to pursue with the federal relief dollars, he said.
“We will definitely be a partner with Redmond,” DeBone said. “As a commissioner, my goal is to empower us to be able to ask people not to be camping all over the east side of Redmond.”
DeBone said there is significant economic development opportunity on the county’s 1,600-acre property on the east side of Redmond. However, he said the homeless camps scattered throughout the property have created challenges, and that in order to enforce a camping ban on the property, there needs to be other low-barrier shelter options in the city.
Bob Bohac, the outreach director for Jericho Road, said he has tried to get Oasis Village on a City Council work session agenda for months. He is hopeful the council will be reassured once they get more information.
“If the council doesn’t approve these funds, it’s certainly going to delay our ability to get a village built,” Bohac said.
David Notari, the director of development for Shepherd’s House Ministries, said the nonprofit will continue with its plans to open a low-barrier shelter and engage other funding sources if the city does not provide funding.
“In the end, we want to work well with the city and with city officials because this is going to be an effort that’s going to require all of our best thinking and best work,” Notari said. “That’s the approach we want to take moving forward, no matter what outcome occurs with this particular decision.”
Gwenn Wysling, the executive director of Bethlehem Inn, said that if the city wants reassurance that the nonprofit will not require additional support in the future, she can provide that.
“This is really a unique opportunity for the city to make some wise investments in some local strategic long-term assets that will serve the community for years to come,” Wysling said. “We really want to work with the city and make this a win-win.”