Dear Gov. Kotek,
Thank you for the attention your recent homeless emergency declaration is bringing to the crisis we face in Central Oregon. I am hopeful that, with homelessness a central focus of your legislative agenda, we can bring increased services, shelter and affordable housing to our region. Unfortunately, in Redmond, planned removals of people experiencing homelessness will worsen our crisis before those benefits can materialize.
Particularly concerning is Deschutes County’s intention — perhaps as early as this spring — to displace an estimated 50 people from property in east Redmond slated to be exchanged with the Oregon Department of State Lands. The push to remove camps is an attempt by the county to comply with a recently stated Department of State Lands requirement that the county remove the campers before the exchange can take place.
This action will come on the heels of two other, large-scale removals, at Hunnell Road in nearby Bend and the Redmond Airport Runway Protection Zone. Those actions will evict approximately 100 additional people from their makeshift homes. All these removals will take place at a time when Redmond has essentially zero low-barrier shelter spaces and our service providers, many of them volunteers, lack the capacity and resources to meet even the current need.
As you are aware, the removal of people experiencing homelessness from public property without adequate services and shelter available is an ineffective and inefficient use of public resources. As recent experiences in Central Oregon have demonstrated, it does nothing to address the root causes of homelessness and only serves to disperse the unhoused to new, more visible, and less safe locations.
These actions disrupt already traumatized lives and sever relationships between people experiencing houslessness and service providers that are essential to truly addressing our homeless crisis.
As chair of the State Land Board, which oversees the Department of State Lands, you have the authority to direct the department to place a two-year moratorium on the land exchange to give local governments and service providers time to use your emergency declaration and anticipated funding to ensure sufficient services, shelter and housing are developed to meet the needs of the unhoused people in east Redmond. Considering this land swap has been in the works for over 15 years and during that time the parties involved ignored the establishment and growth of the camps, a two-year delay does not seem excessive.
The rush to make property available for sale and development should not be an excuse to ignore the humanitarian needs of our vulnerable neighbors.
As an alternative, you could direct the Department of State Lands to convene the interested parties including the state, Deschutes County, the city of Redmond, the Deschutes County Fair Board (which plans to use the land the county receives for expansion), Redmond Economic Development Inc., and service providers with on-the-ground experience in Redmond and existing relationships with the unhoused people impacted by the removal. The goal would be to find a path forward that allows the land exchange to take place while, most importantly, developing a comprehensive plan ensuring adequate resources and shelter are in place to humanely meet the needs of the people affected before the removals take place.
I ask you to act now to ensure that these removals, when they occur, proceed in a safe and humane manner. It can be the difference between continuing to kick the can down the road and beginning to make meaningful progress addressing Redmond’s growing homeless crisis.
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