Half a dozen visitors got up at Wednesday’s Bend City Council meeting and told councilors about human waste, trash, camping and other problems in their neighborhood. It happened this winter and last near Bend’s only dedicated homeless warming shelter, Sagewood Sanctuary, on Greenwood Avenue downtown.
Councilors and city staff didn’t respond.
We emailed Mayor Sally Russell and City Manager Eric King and asked why. No response. Anne Aurand, the city’s communications director, did try to answer our questions.
She said the city has talked with people who have complained. The city offered to pay for neighborhood mediation services to help resolve problems.
That’s good. But the city allowed the shelter. It must provide adequate support. It would be one thing if the mediation led to big improvements. It did not.
Sagewood has been open for the past two winters inside the offices of Pfeifer & Associates drug addiction treatment center on Greenwood. The city authorized its use as an emergency shelter. The shelter has received donations from the city, Deschutes County, St. Charles hospital system and the Central Oregon Health Council.
Sagewood gives homeless who have no place else to go a place to sleep and keep warm. The rules at Sagewood are more flexible than other places in Bend that offer shelter to the homeless. For instance, it doesn’t turn away intoxicated people. Pets can stay, too. The service it provides is undeniable. Bend Police Chief Jim Porter praised its work to protect people from the cold.
The shelter may actually not remain in its current location. Its board is looking for a new home. Bulletin reporter Julia Shumway has written more about it.
Where the shelter has been located on Greenwood near the bridge is also home to businesses, apartments and more. Some neighbors have complained about the impacts when it is operating. Trash. Human waste. Camping. Abandoned cars. Feeling unsafe.
Why doesn’t the city at least ensure itself that the trash gets picked up?
The city told us the shelter is an allowed use and on private property. Part of a city email to neighbors read: “littering and defecating on your property would be code violations, albeit hard to enforce because enforcement has to catch someone in the act to cite. Police can respond to and cite conduct, such as littering or drug dealing, when they have adequate resources to respond.”
In other words, good luck.
Of course, helping the homeless is not only the city’s responsibility. It’s a community challenge without easy answers.
But the city helped birth a problem in a Bend neighborhood. It was not doing enough to adequately help that neighborhood or to gather partners together to help. The failure could make the challenge of getting community support to help the homeless all the more difficult.
What will happen as Sagewood looks for a new home? Its new neighbors may welcome the shelter. But the city has given them good reason to be worried.