Guest Column

In March 2021, the Bend City Council committed to taking concrete actions to end homelessness in Bend. We partnered with Deschutes County to create an Emergency Homelessness Task Force, proposed changes to city codes to allow more shelter options, adopted safe parking areas and secured additional funding to provide housing and supportive services to our houseless neighbors. We are on our way to creating facilities to house 500 people experiencing homelessness safely—not in unmanaged, unsafe encampments, but in ways that stop cycles of housing insecurity.

The myths surrounding Bend homelessness aren’t helping to solve our problems. Most people in Central Oregon experiencing homelessness here are not transplants. They are not “attracted” here by a social services Field of Dreams. If we ensure safe places for people to live, they will not come here to take advantage of us. In fact, 74% of people experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon had been here for at least a year; 84% last had stable housing in Oregon. Only 16% of people currently homeless in Central Oregon came to Oregon after becoming homeless. (CQ: www.slideshare.net/JamesCook200/2020-point-in-time-count)

It is not an option to make Bend so unfriendly to certain people that they leave. Even if this weren’t immoral, ineffective and potentially illegal, it would be fiscally irresponsible. We’d be pushing problems to future City Councils, to other cities in Central Oregon, to the health care system, to law enforcement. We’d face legal challenges. No matter how upsetting it is to see new encampments in our city, we cannot legally fine or sanction people for sleeping on public property unless there are other locations available for people to sleep. The law is clear: It is not illegal to be homeless, and, despite what some may think about a city’s legal authority, there is no basis to sanction people for “vagrancy” or for having no place of their own to go. Our partners in the Bend-La Pine School District report that 231 of our kids’ classmates are experiencing homelessness. Criminalizing these children isn’t an option we’re willing to entertain.

We need to avoid the mistakes Portland and Seattle made decades ago. Sweeping encampments and crossing our fingers that one day, like a miracle, they’ll be gone, is not a plan. It’s folly. When encampments are unsafe for inhabitants or neighbors, and there are options for people to relocate to, we have acted. For instance, the situation on Emerson Avenue in June had deteriorated. But before addressing that site there needed to be an alternative place for people to go. The city and community acted by providing campers options for safe shelter and cleaned up the camp.

Fortunately, there are solutions. We are squarely focused on home affordability. We are changing our codes, policies, and funding streams to incentivize more varied housing types to ensure more people have access to housing. Our cooperative efforts with Deschutes County through the Emergency Homelessness Task Force will bear fruit. Our proposal to work together with the county on a joint central office aimed at preventing and ending homelessness presents an opportunity to give people safe, managed places to stay, to individualize plans for getting veterans, children, and others out of homelessness, and to clean up unsafe encampments in and near our city.

We need an integrated approach. We need to know who is experiencing homelessness in our community in real time, and we need to stick with a plan for getting each one of them out of homelessness. We know this is possible because it has worked elsewhere. Homelessness increased 13% a year for years before this council set our goals. We’re committed to reversing this trend. By serving the city and our community members with compassion, cooperation, and data, we’re confident we can.

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The Bend City Council is Mayor Sally Russell, Gena Goodman-Campbell, Melanie Kebler, Rita Schenkelberg, Megan Perkins, Barb Campbell, and Anthony Broadman.

(13) comments

Benderite

Something needs to be done, the hands-off approach in Portland, Seattle, Oakland is NOT working, we sure do NOT want to copy them!!! There needs to be law and order for EVERYBODY, that includes the homeless!

Sandra T

So, I have a couple questions:

1. The Emergency Homeless Task Force. Was it open to the public for thoughts and opinions?

2. What changes to City Codes were made for more shelter options?

3. What secured additional funding was provided for our houseless neighbors?

4. What type of facilities and where will they be located for 500 people experiencing homelessness?

Some have said that the homeless are "attracted" here by social services "Field of Dreams". That might be true to a point, however homelessness is a National problem caused by many issues which I think most will say are drugs, Mental Illness which this Country seems to be unable to handle and of course the high cost of living. Finally, Covid did not help matters.

The Field of Dreams refers to the statement many are feeling and believing….. "if you build it, they will come". This is a Statement that In my view should not be taken lightly. It has been proven time and time again. Not taking this statement with seriousness is simply not being open to realistic possibilities.

No one wants Bend to be unfriendly. Bend is very friendly and simply because people "neighbors" are against "Monitored Homeless/Houseless Village" camps in their backyard and squished between a elementary school and a high school does not make them unfriendly. What it does is make them is concerned about their family and property. Our Homeless neighbors are important, However you seem to have forgotten about our housed neighbors who pay their taxes and work their “backsides” off to get that house. Our tax payers deserve the respect of our elected local Govt. to listen and respect their opinions and comments. We deserve your time and considerations as much or maybe even more than the homeless. We pay the bills in this town don’t we?

Not having a home is not a crime. Very true statement. No one should be punished for being homeless due to job loss, health other reason what are not personally controllable. However having a home should not be punished either! I would think that the Mayor and Council would be understanding to this fact. I would bet that the Mayor or any Council Member might feel different about these homeless Villages if their backyard was being invaded without being asked.

The City Comment:

"No matter how upsetting it is to see new encampments in our city, we cannot legally fine or sanction people for sleeping on public property unless there are other locations available for people to sleep.

HB3115 - The court found that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

So my question is, Why can’t we make or expand bed shelters here in Bend instead of outdoor village shelters? If we expand indoor bed facilities and some stay unoccupied, then can’t we legally ask those houseless to either take a bed or move on. Is this not what HB3115 is saying? Can someone explain this please? If we can add 100 indoor beds to new or existing shelters, then maybe we will be able to finally tell who wants help and who does not. This will also give law enforcement a leg up on the problem and maybe untie their hands some so they can enforce laws for the betterment of the Community as a whole.

Perhaps some of the good people in Bend who are against these homeless village camps would volunteer to help build or expand shelters. All you need to do is talk with your Community and I am sure you would find awesome people who would be more than willing to help find suitable indoor housing……But Ms. Mayor and Council Members, to date you have refused to talk publically about this matter or discuss other options with the public.

As much as I applaud your cooperative efforts with Deschutes County regarding homeless, I still see some troubling issues and perhaps why you are getting some negative feedback …..

1. You are not communicating with your Community.

2. In the last several Council Members, you stated that you were in the very early stages of these homeless villages. However, it has become very apparent that was a true statement. Is it true that you have decided to go forward with the 9th Street location? Are you starting the clearing process?

3. I think every or almost every Council Member including our Mayor admitted that they were just learning about these Villages/homeless solutions with us (the public) and to bear with you all as you learn as you go. Even during the last Council meeting, you all admitted to the fact “we are learning with you” (you being the public).

These statements do not give me a lot of trust in this quick decision. You said you started your commitment to the homeless problem in March of this year. Now 7 months later, you are willing to forgo the Communities concerns and proceed with these experimental homless villages in active neighborhoods and school districts. There has to be other locations…

I find this article to the Bulletin cowardly in a way. We have asked time and again for a public Q and A. Help us understand your decision on 9th Street specifically. Crickets we hear. Where is the site plan we asked for other locations? You willingness to draft a public statement to the Bulliten and not publically talk to your Community tells a lot. It basically says that you are unwilling to be challenged by those who voted for you and supported you.

Finally, your comment, “Bend-LaPine School District report that 231 of our kids’ classmates are experiencing homelessness. Criminalizing these children isn’t an option we’re willing to entertain.”

Who in the heck is asking you to Criminalize these children? No one!

65527

Couldn’t have said it better Sandra. Well written and true!

Catmango

At least enforcing the current laws on the books provides a better tool for dealing with the large segment of the homeless population that have either substance abuse mental health issues, neither of which puts them in a state of mind to improve their situation. If they have built up unpaid fines, they can have their fines forgiven by allowing the city/county to check them into a treatment facility and, if capable, a job training program.

guest1874

While I applaud local elected official’s efforts unfortunately they’re making the same mistakes many many other communities have already made. Forming task forces, 10-year plans to “end homelessness”, assuming lack of adequate “affordable housing” is the cause of homelessness, etc. Politicians need to understand and communicate to the public that they can’t end homelessness, it’s not their job. There are multiple societal effects at play that contribute to why someone becomes homeless and too long to go into here but what they CAN do is enact programs to provide assistance with clear goals and timelines with accountability.

Portland and Seattle continue to make mistakes now, not just decades ago. Seattle and the surrounding area spends over $1 BILLION per year on homeless services, yet unsheltered homeless numbers have only increased and dangerous encampments flourish.

Portland has spent HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS with no appreciable reduction in unsheltered homelessness.

Things are changing. Cities struggling mightily with this problem for far longer than we have are reevaluating their plans and tactics. “Ending homelessness” is no longer the goal, “functional zero” is. That means there are enough shelter beds for the amount of people homeless according to the PIT count. Elected leaders elsewhere are looking to enact policies that require people to accept offers of shelter and not just refuse and stay in dangerous encampments. Boise V Martin simply states that you cannot cite or arrest someone for sleeping in a public space because they are homeless and have nowhere to go and you don’t have shelter to offer them. It doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want with no consequences. The 9th Circuit Judge specifically said in the ruling he didn’t want to create a protected class of people but that is exactly what ended up happening in a lot of places.

Housing first as practiced by most hasn’t worked. Yes thinking that just sweeping encampments makes the problem go away is folly but so is thinking that housing someone with no preconditions to be sober or have an income or require them to get counseling is going to magically solve everything. Right about now someone will claim that it’s “proven” that these types of policies work by citing studies that virtually no one reads or understands. Also there are no credible studies of any size that shows any success using that method past 2 years. Period. BTW, Central Oregon’s permanent housing placement rate from 2015-2018 was just 13.7% after two years when taking recidivism into account. We have a long way to go.

I am encouraged to read that high barrier options are in the plan. People reading this that think most homeless folks are just down on their luck and can’t afford rent in a really expensive place really need to talk to law enforcement, anyone who’s been in NA, and families who tragically have family members who are homeless.

I also applaud local leaders for recognizing that you absolutely have to track metrics and have good data. And don’t just say you’re “committed to reversing the trend” but publicly state by what percentage you want to reduce the unsheltered homeless numbers and have a clear plan with a timeline to accomplish it.

A truly effective solution to current crisis MUST have:

A. Subject matter experts. Serving unsheltered individuals requires targeted outreach and expertise, not just well-meaning and compassionate volunteers (although they’re important, don’t get me wrong).

B. Strong program management with follow through and accountability. Concise and easily understood metrics outlining incoming funding sources and outgoing expenditures so the public can see exactly what’s being accomplished.

C. Accurate tracking of individuals throughout the service system from publicly funded shelter options to outside service providers with clear goals and immediate suspension of funding if significant reductions in unsheltered populations is not achieved within an agreed timeframe.

D. A concrete plan for “service resistant” individuals. If someone doesn’t want to go to the safe parking site or a shelter then what?

E. Set a firm end date with a clear timetable tracked for evidence of positive outcomes.

Again I applaud our City leaders recognize that we have a serious problem that’s not going away and are publicly showing a plan to move forward, however imperfect. Please don’t make the same mistakes that other cities have made or I guarantee that in 10 years time the problem will have grown so much that it will make today look quaint.

Lisabee

The citizens have done everything possible to try to be heard that placing a homeless camp next to schools and in a neighborhood is an absolutely terrible idea and is not supported. The City Council has made it clear that they don't care what we think. The "solutions" they are proposing are detrimental to the communities that are already in the area. The safety of kids should always come first. It may be time for a recall of this City Council.

Gary Mendoza

The City Council’s refusal to use law enforcement tools to reduce homelessness is the triumph of virtuous intentions over sound policy. It’s not immoral to enforce the law; it’s good governance. The City Council needs better lawyers, and Bend needs a City Council that’s serious about reducing homelessness.

Paul Conte

The Bend City Council claims: "We are changing our codes, policies, and funding streams to incentivize more varied housing types to ensure more people have access to housing."

In fact, the Counci's recent deregulation of single-family housing without concrete protections against displacement of low-income houeholds by demolition, redevelopment, and gentrification, will worsen conditions for the most vulnerable, currently housed renters. "Believing good" isn't "doing good." The Council needs to quick drinking the Kool-Aid and start paying attention to the evidence.

373749

You are proposing the playbook of limiting supply through restrictive zoning again? This has NEVER worked in any high demand area to live. While I generally think the California comparisons are overdone, that IS what happened in California! Residents, fearing newcomers and change, imposed restrictive protectionist zoning to preserve 'character' and we gobbled it all up all the land into a big suburban concrete jungle of McMansions and parking lots.

Paul Conte

Put down your cup of Kool-Aid and re-read my post, expecially: " without concrete protections against displacement of low-income houeholds by demolition, redevelopment, and gentrification."

The trouble with you zealots is that you've never bothered to actually educate yourselves on how to fix a broken system without making it worse. As one housing justice expert observed: "The 'free market' is not the solution; it's the problem."

Skittish

First, there are some salient points here. Homelessness is a problem that is difficult to deal with, will not go away with enforcement of current laws and certainly has something to do with the exorbitant cost of housing. There may be possible solutions that benefit everyone and completely ignoring the issue isn't likely to be such a solution. I just don't know why this council has the depth of knowledge to tackle this problem. Stating they are going to end homelessness causes me to highly doubt them. In fact, one of the first things they need to do is set clear, obtainable goals that are affordable. If they recognized that not every homeless person wants their help and that it’s not possible to help everyone, that would be a bonus.

However, I do not see where it is a public entities responsibility such as the City of Bend, to provide housing for anyone. Homeless people should not be allowed to utilize public resources in a way that people with homes cannot. There are still rules to be followed such as not drinking in public and littering, and everyone should be held to the same standard no matter their housing status.

Again, I am looking to see if the Bend city Council can delineate the problem, determine metrics to monitor success and failure, specify a budget and be transparent about how much we are going to have to pay extra or where the money is going to come from.

A bit of a side issue, the lack of affordable housing seems to be self-induced and we seem incapable of making any decisions to alleviate it to a reasonable degree. Housing affordability seems a much more appropriate issue for the Bend city council to take up, yet they do not seem fully capable of dealing with this either so I doubt they are going to have much success with a much more complicated problem such as homelessness.

I would agree that the city of Bend has not been so hospitable that we have attracted numerous people from out of the area. People tend to be somewhat migratory and I would not expect that not every homeless person is from the area. However, that does not mean that if we go to great lengths to “help” and spend significant sums of money, that we will not get a reputation and then indeed attract people specifically for the benefits of living here. This editorial seems to confuse the past with the future.

The main thing I am looking for is are metrics to measure success and potential failure and a timeline. If our expectations are not met within a reasonable amount of time, then we have to have an exit plan.

Finally, I do not see or equate enforcing laws for everybody equally as making being homeless illegal. I also do not see it as the responsibility of society in general or the City of Bend in particular as being completely responsible for providing housing for each individual who considers Bend home. So far as myths are concerned, there seem to be plenty to go around on both sides of this issue.

HGH

You have offered numerous comments and criticisms, but no real solutions. Do you have any solutions to offer?

Skittish

The fact I offer no solutions is the not so subtle point. Homelessness is a very complicated issue, and no one seems to have a solution. So, with that in mind, why don't we ask a lot of questions, proceed carefully and know what we are doing as much as possible before starting instead of wishful thinking and hand wringing? I have plenty of personal experience relying on so called experts who believe throwing money at a problem is always the solution. The problem is that it was my money.

Why not figure out how much money we are willing to spend, knowing we may solve nothing, may make things worse or possibly do some good? Why not determine metrics before we start that will help differentiate the possible outcomes? Many seem to think homelessness is primarily a problem of not having a home: it's much more than that. Homelessness is a common ending point with many pathways and I am looking for this current council, since they are the ones bound and determined to "end homelessness", to provide the evidence and rationale they know what they are doing. I am not on the council if it isn't obvious and don't believe homelessness can be ended, consequently, I don't have to offer solutions.

In other words, this effort is their baby. It's their responsibility.

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