Two people died over the weekend at a homeless camp on Hunnell Road on Bend’s north end, and some homeless outreach workers and social justice activists are attributing the deaths to heat-related causes.
Temperatures reached 104 degrees in Bend on Sunday amid an ongoing heat wave sweeping the Northwest.
The deaths have raised concerns among residents who work with homeless people that more outreach and services are necessary to keep homeless individuals safe from the heat.
Temperatures rose Monday to 108 degrees and were forecast Tuesday to hit 111, according to the National Weather Service. High temperatures will not dip below triple digits until at least Thursday, with a high of 98 degrees expected, according to the National Weather service.
Lt. Juli McConkey with the Bend Police Department confirmed the deaths, both reported on Sunday, stating there was no indication of suspicious circumstances or criminal activity.
According to Eric Garrity, who works with Street Kitchen Collective, a homeless outreach organization, the eviction of the camp on Emerson Avenue in Bend a few days before the anticipated heat wave put homeless individuals in unnecessary danger.
“Emerson had shade and was a few degrees cooler than Hunnell Road, where there is no shade or trees,” he said. “To act like they’re unrelated, is disingenuous.”
Garrity confirmed that two individuals died at the Hunnell Road location. One, a wheelchair user, had previously lived at the Emerson Avenue camp, he said.
“One found was deceased for a few days, and heat may have still been a factor,” he said. “It’s been crazy hot the past few days. Just because it was a few days ago, that is not indicative that it’s not heat related.”
Garrity also mentioned a third death that occurred at Hunnell Road over the weekend, a potential overdose.
“While that’s not necessarily heat related, in my experience and with mutual aid groups, people have been relapsing more, campers who are either clean or high functioning have been having greater struggles than they used to, possibly because of the stress of evictions,” he said.
According to Garrity, some individuals who were evicted from the camp at Emerson Avenue and moved to the camp at Hunnell Road were recently given eviction notices.
Ultimately, Garrity said, the city of Bend needs to take responsibility for the consequences of evicting homeless people from camps without providing them with somewhere else to go.
“The city made a policy decision to evict people and is now also giving eviction notices at places where people were moved to,” he said. “These are all connected matters. This is the city’s continued criminalization of homelessness in the community.”
“Whether someone lives on Emerson or Hunnell here, the bottom line is that no one should die on the streets of Bend,” said Bend City Councilor Megan Perkins. “It is a societal failure and it has been ignored for way too long. The City Council is working every day to solve this issue, but it’s going to take some time. In the meantime, we are trying to provide as many resources as we can to make sure everyone is safe in this heat.”
Cooling centers and other resources
As temperatures rise in Central Oregon, homeless outreach organizations are working to ensure that homeless individuals have access to cooling centers and needed resources.
“We lost two of our neighbors. That tragedy happened last weekend,” said Morgan Schmidt, a pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Bend, which is functioning as a cooling center for the homeless from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends. Shepherd’s House Ministries, in partnership with the First Presbyterian Church, is functioning as a cooling center from noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Tony Mitchell, executive director for the Jefferson County Faith Based Network, was driving around Madras in a van with staff and volunteers all weekend picking up homeless individuals and transporting them to a cooling shelter at the Madras Free Methodist Church.
Overall, they picked up around 15 people, and Mitchell expects that there will be more throughout the week as temperatures rise.
“It’s intense out there,” he said. “This is not a joke this week. But this has given us a proof of concept, and a test run at that. It’s really simple. It’s about a meal, hydration. It’s great to have something like a TV, some socialization, a place to hang.”
According to Mitchell, anyone in the community can use the space for shelter.
“One guy came in the other day who didn’t have AC and he was having a really hard time,” he said.
Mitchell said the space can accommodate around 25 people, but that no one will be turned away.
James Cook, who is helping run cooling centers in Redmond, said that there was a pretty good crowd at 17th Avenue and Greenwood Avenue, where a cooling center is located and where volunteers were doing street outreach on the weekend from 2 to 6 p.m.
According to Cook, an additional cooling center is being made available at the Mountain View Fellowship. Transportation to the center will be provided at 17th and Greenwood at noon this week.
“Street outreach will be there with ice and water and fruit and stuff like that,” Cook said.
As the week progresses and temperatures rise, more volunteers will likely be needed.
“We’re pretty good for the next couple days, but after that it could get iffy. It’s pretty obvious we’ll need to stay open all week, and after the next few days, we’ll need more volunteers. If too many show up, we can always say no.”
Mitchell in Madras said the cooling center could use donations of sleeping mats, sleeping bags and serving utensils.
“Our volunteer train is starting to pick up,” Mitchell said. “Folks are donating different things for lunches and stuff.”
Schmidt said donations are being accepted at the First Presbyterian Church in Bend, and that more volunteers are needed.
Items most in need include coolers, ice, small towels, bandanas, water bottles, Gatorade, electrolyte packets, misters, baby wipes, sun hats, sunscreen and deodorant.
“No more popsicles or ice cream,” she said.
Shepherd’s House is also in need of donated bottled water.
Overall, homeless outreach workers expressed gratitude for being able to help as Central Oregon grapples with the extreme heat wave.
“Things are going well, and we feel fortunate to be doing this,” Mitchell said. “Unhoused folks are not who you think they are. When you get up close and personal and share that joint humanity and share conversations about life, you’re just always learning things that just amaze you about who the folks are that we’re serving.”
On Saturday and Sunday, a total of six people were seen throughout St. Charles Health System’s four Central Oregon hospitals for heat-related medical issues, said Lisa Goodman, St. Charles Health System spokeswoman.