Guest Column

Homelessness is a growing crisis in Central Oregon and our nation. Ironically it has become most visible in prosperous communities like ours where economic growth is driving dramatic increases in housing costs. High costs and lack of housing inventory, combined with the economic uncertainty and lost jobs brought on by the COVID pandemic are adding to the crisis. And several camp sweeps in the last two years have driven people experiencing houselessness from the margins of our community into our neighborhoods and public spaces.

The coming of winter has traditionally brought an outpouring of support for our unhoused neighbors. This year is no exception. For the first time, all our communities; Warm Springs, La Pine, Prineville, Madras, Sisters, Redmond and Bend will host overnight shelters every night this winter regardless of the temperature. While this is a significant accomplishment, we must acknowledge that winter shelters are a Band-Aid that do little to address the root causes of houselessness or to create paths out of houselessness.

Those issues are being addressed by several projects throughout Central Oregon:

  • Veteran’s Village in Bend welcomed its first guests this month
  • St. Vincent Village in Bend has broken ground
  • Bend’s year-round overnight shelter opened in June
  • Proposed shelter villages in Bend and Redmond
  • Bethlehem Inn Redmond, a high barrier shelter, will welcome its first guests before year’s end
  • The Shepherd’s House low barrier shelter in Redmond will welcome its first guests in 2022
  • Street outreach and popup kitchens in Bend and Redmond
  • Safe parking programs in Bend and Redmond
  • Proposals for managed camps with social and sanitation services
  • Hotel to shelter conversions in Bend
  • Bend code changes and permitting process for shelter siting
  • State mandated zoning changes to expand opportunities for middle housing
  • And more…

While these efforts by our communities, nonprofits, religious organizations, and volunteers are essential to addressing houselessness, they cannot be successful and we cannot meaningfully address houselessness without understanding, compassion, and support from our community. This will require us to reexamine the stereotypes we carry about people experiencing houselessness; recognition that they are our neighbors and deserving of respect and dignity regardless of their current living conditions; and a commitment that our prosperity will benefit everyone in our community.

For too long, we have stereotyped our neighbors who are unhoused by labeling them as “the homeless,” a label that marginalizes them and allows us to ignore their individual stories and unique humanity, a humanity that reflects the diversity of our community. They are pregnant mothers, infants and children, couch surfing students, senior citizens, families, service workers, and yes, people experiencing substance abuse disorders and mental illness. They are unique individuals with unique needs ranging from one time support through a challenging time to those requiring a lifetime of supportive services. Each one has a unique gift to offer our community if we will open our eyes to see and support it. Each has a unique story, and, if we listen, we will find we share more than we care to admit. The difference between us being that, in our time of need, we had the support of our family, friends and neighbors.

The time has come for us to mend the safety net, heal our community and share the prosperity.

If you would like to donate, volunteer or provide meals for a local cold weather shelter visit for locations and contact information. Or contact a local service provider to learn how you can become part of the solution.

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James Cook lives in Redmond; Mandee Seely lives in Sisters, and Katherine Austin lives in Bend. Austin is a member of The Bulletin’s community editorial board.

(2) comments

Gary Mendoza

While the authors’ compassion is clear, if compassion was the solution, Bend’s homeless squalor wouldn’t be metastasizing.

It is time for a complete reset of Bend’s homelessness policy.

That reset should start with a recognition that the desire of Bend residents to live in clean, safe neighborhoods is completely understandable and deserves respect.

It’s also time to recognize that Bend’s homeless have an obligation to do the best they can for themselves before they ask Bend residents to carry their weight. We should also acknowledge that Bend’s financial resources are aren’t unlimited, and wishing that was the case won’t make it so.

While the coordination of City and County efforts is welcome, better coordination of bad policies won’t help.

The proposed homeless camp policy is an example. The policy as currently envisioned is designed to serve the interests of the homeless and the homeless service providers. That policy should be revised to put a greater focus on protecting Bend neighborhoods.

Any proposed homeless camp should be at least five miles from any Bend neighborhood, provide a spartan level of service and include strict rules for eligibility and a limited period of stay.

Tough decisions that preserve and advance Bend’s quality of life are what’s needed.

If the evidence before our eyes means anything, good intentions aren’t nearly good enough.


Well put.

They seem to think there is a lack of compassion by those who don't support them or want to do anything. I bet it's really a lack of confidence in them as demonstrated by their description of the problem.

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