F ebruary in Bend is a changeling month: It often starts cold, only to have the chill snatched away, replaced by much warmer temperatures for a few days. This year, the process has been reversed. From highs well into the 50s and overnight lows above freezing in early February, we’re entering a third week of cold.
Many days, highs haven’t reached 40 degrees, and overnight lows have been in the teens and single digits. Thus, according to the Wunderground website, the low early Saturday morning was a bitter 1 degree.
Daytime and nighttime cold are particularly tough on the region’s homeless population — no surprise there. Can you imagine spending your nights, as someone has been, in a small tent just off the intersection of NE Fourth Street and NE Studio Road?
Most city governments, including Bend’s, seem to worry more about providing housing for those at the low end of the market, including the homeless, than sheltering people with no place to go. Nights are the worst, of course, but spending a day outside in subfreezing weather is no picnic.
A daytime problem doesn’t lessen the importance of efforts like the one touted by councilors Bruce Abernethy and Nathan Boddie. They and public officials and others are working on a “housing first” plan that aims to get the homeless into housing, then deliver services that help them put their lives back together.
Even if their discussions end in a plan, however, I suspect it won’t be large enough to solve the homelessness problems in the area. With more than 500 homeless in the county, many of them in and around Bend, I cannot imagine there will be enough money to address everyone’s needs anytime soon.
There are things I think the city can and should consider, however.
It’s not in the position to open overnight shelters, with good reason. Overnight shelters must be heavily staffed, as churches in this community have discovered. While some of that work can be done by volunteers, it takes more expertise to keep things running smoothly than volunteers often have.
But the city can, and in my opinion should, do what it can to make cold days more comfortable for the area’s homeless.
For now, there are only a few places they can go during the day. The Deschutes Public Library is generally available, so long as visitors don’t become disruptive. So, too, are the seating areas near Starbucks inside Safeway stores. Library and store management are apparently willing to turn a blind eye when the weather’s bitter and the men and women seeking shelter from it are well behaved. Hawthorne Station in Bend sees its share of homeless when the weather’s cold and it is open.
Daytime warming shelters, however, are generally a Western Oregon phenomenon. As you might expect, most are run by churches or other nonprofits, and among them, they’re responsible for at least 29 day shelters in Multnomah County and another 11 in Clackamas County. Lane, Benton (Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center, corvallisddc.org) and Washington counties each have one.
Most surprising, I think, is a Denny’s in Canby that allows the homeless to come in for an hour or two without pressure to buy food. Too, the City Hall in Sandy, southeast of Portland on U.S. Highway 26, is open to the homeless during business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, according to 211info.org.
I’m not necessarily sure the city should be running a warming center on cold days, although I’m not sure it shouldn’t. I am sure, however, that I think city officials should work to see that one is available. It only makes sense: Unsheltered folks are not the only homeless members of our community, unfortunately, and places that are open at night often are not available on particularly cold days. We owe our homeless neighbors at least that much.
— Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821, firstname.lastname@example.org