With the Vets Village Open, an Opportunity to Learn | Editorial | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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With the Vets Village Open, an Opportunity to Learn 

The collaborative project is thus far a success story about how communities, local governments and willing individuals can come together to meet a need

On Veterans Day, the first of what could one day be a number of villages for houseless individuals in Central Oregon opened on the Deschutes County public safety campus. The 15 armed services veterans who will live there will not only have a place to live, but will have access to social services and other supports right on site. Inspired by similar projects in Kansas City and Clackamas County, Oregon, the village is the first of its kind in Central Oregon—but supporters and advocates for individuals experiencing homelessness in the community hope that it will be far from the last.

The collaborative project is thus far a success story about how communities, local governments and willing individuals can come together to meet a need—but seeing this project come to fruition was far from easy, and demonstrates the heavy lifting that needs to happen to see more of these projects get going.

TIMUR WEBER / PEXELS
  • Timur Weber / Pexels

Siting the project was among the first hurdles, as Erik Tobiason, president of the Bend Heroes Foundation that spearheaded the project, told the Source Weekly in February. Finding land on publicly owned property, such as county, city, irrigation district, school or park district land, sounds like an easy enough prospect, but that land should also have easy access to public transportation and other social services. In the case of the Veterans Village, even siting it on the same campus as the sheriff's office, along with the Deschutes County Stabilization Center—the county's go-to location for crisis services—didn't exempt it from concerns from neighbors.

While "veterans in need" is about as sympathetic a population as you can get when it comes to houseless individuals, the Bend Heroes Foundation and its partners still had to work hard to convince neighbors that siting the Village there was a good idea. Like other neighbors in other neighborhoods where villages have recently been proposed, neighbors adjacent to the public safety campus expressed concerns. Neighbors had had some negative experiences when a temporary winter warming shelter was located at the sheriff's office before, Tobiason said. Assuaging those concerns involved setting up a working group that included the nearby homeowners' association, Central Oregon Veterans Outreach and city and county representatives. In other words, it took time and dialogue to overcome that hurdle.

Funding was another collaborative effort. In-kind donations from local builders, labor from J Bar J Boys Ranch, and ongoing city and county funding—along with the lease of the land from Deschutes County–all combined to make the project happen and to keep it going.

The opening of the Veterans Village is a triumph in itself—one that means 15 fewer people will be living on the streets or in precarious housing as winter begins. But on top of that obvious benefit is another one: The ability for the community to see what a managed village looks like: how it works, what it takes to fund it and the support services that wrap around it in order to make the residents there successful.

In that way, it's an educational tool that may pave the way for more cooperation and understanding as other camps and villages are proposed region-wide.

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