About 30 Bend residents stood outside of city hall Tuesday to protest a proposed managed homeless camp.
The proposed site sits off Ninth Street, near where the street meets SE Glenwood Drive. The site, which was proposed by the city last month, is largely controversial because it is near Bear Creek Elementary and Bend High School.
The city’s vision is to have a site of 15 to 25 camps, according to city staff. It would be professionally managed by a qualified nonprofit organization, which would oversee the day-to-day operations.
The managed camp, which is intended to be temporary, would have sanitation and garbage service, and addresses for residents to receive mail. The camp would also have “community member rules and regulations, a good neighbor agreement, and admission criteria for the people who live there,” according to the city’s website.
The idea is modeled after similar communities developed in other cities, as a way to help stabilize people and make it easier for service providers to connect with homeless people to improve their situation.
But the public outcry against this location has been strong. Another proposed location, off Murphy Road on Oregon Department of Transportation land, has not generated as much public feedback.
For the past few weeks, the council has received a large amount of pushback from neighbors in the Ninth Street-Glenwood Drive area, as well as school athletic coaches and teachers. Most have expressed fears for the safety of children who walk through this area.
Julie Connell, a parent of two children who go to Bear Creek Elementary, said she and another mom decided to organize the protest after feeling frustrated after the last Bend City Council meeting. The hope is the City Council will take the site off the list to consider.
“I want solutions. I want our homeless people to feel safe,” said Connell. “I just don’t want it so close to where our young citizens are growing and going to school.”
A chief complaint of Connell’s, along with other parents at the protest, was the ambiguity around the city’s proposal.
When asked whether the fact the camp will be managed, and its residents screened before entry, would change their opinion about safety, Connell, along with other parents, said no.
“Those are good intentions, but you can’t control every potential scenario,” Connell said.
A small counterprotest, which appeared to be led by the Central Oregon Peacekeepers and included people who self-identified as homeless, was also present.
Luke Richter, the leader of the Peacekeepers, said it was frustrating that the people protesting weren’t recognizing that homeless people were already living in this area of town in an unmanaged way, which is a situation that, in the eyes of the protesters, should seem less safe.
“People deserve to have a place to live no matter what situations they are going through in life, and it shouldn’t be dictated by people who have never been through that struggle,” Richter said.
This is not the first time this slice of city-owned land has been controversial. The nearly 2-acre parcel was slated to become affordable housing a few years ago. There was significant pushback from neighbors about this project, as well, according to previous reporting from The Bulletin.
In an interview with The Bulletin in advance of the protest Tuesday, Mayor Sally Russell said she was “deeply empathetic” for the concerns the community has raised about the camp, but reinforced that there is a way to serve the needs of homeless residents, who also have children and need an opportunity to get back on their feet, and meet the safety needs of the surrounding neighborhood.
“I’m committed to making sure that people who are in this shelter, in this facility, are carefully screened and have to follow really tight guidelines and that we have a facility manager that enforces those,” Russell said.
Russell said she was still considering the site seriously, despite the backlash. She asked the community to take a step back and listen to what the council is proposing instead of reacting to small bits of information they may see online.
She also emphasized that not all homeless people are the same, and cautioned against making assumptions.
“I really feel that there is a really safe path forward for this site that can meet the needs of this community, including safety, and also address the needs of people for this community who would perfect for this site,” Russell said.