City Delays Hunnell Sweep | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

City Delays Hunnell Sweep

The City of Bend will wait until Deschutes County establishes managed campsites before it removes tents, cars and RVs from Central Oregon's largest homeless camp

Editor's Note: Deschutes County Commissioners backed out of the agreement to hire a contractor on City-owned land on Murphy Road shortly after this article is published.  Click here for an update on this story.

The City of Bend is postponing a planned sweep of Hunnell Road after Deschutes County signed onto a plan to contract for a managed camp on the intersection of Murphy Road and Highway 97 in south Bend.

Bend asked the county to partner with it at the commissioner's regular meeting on Feb. 22. The City offered to provide an acre of City-owned land for the managed camp and asked Deschutes County to use $100,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to hire a service provider to oversee operations.

click to enlarge City Delays Hunnell Sweep
Jack Harvel
The homeless encampments along Hunnell Road will remain for now, until a managed homeless camp can be set up.

The City declared Hunnell Road an unsafe campsite in December, but decided to wait until March to remove people to avoid depriving people of shelter during the coldest months. In addition, it would allow the Coordinated Houseless Response Office time to offer support to people living there. The City also cited increased traffic from road projects in the area would "significantly add to the safety concerns for people utilizing the camping area." But on Feb. 27, Deschutes County Director of Public Works Chris Doty told commissioners that the road department never requested the campsite be removed, and that other routes can be taken to avoid driving down the portion of the road where people live.

"We've characterized giving [contractors], or allowing them to access, via the southern part of the project would be 'nice to have' versus a 'got to have.' I think by now the contractors kind of figured out that that access isn't something they should be counting on and have not necessarily had a conversation with us about pressing on any sort of issue with regards to the folks down on Hunnell," Doty said during a joint work session with commissioners and City staff.

The City said it won't sweep the Hunnell campsite until a managed camp is open, but there's no clear timeline on the project. Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang suggested two to three months may provide enough time to establish a camp.

"All this planning we're doing around organized, managed service locations will be wasted if we scatter the people that are currently at Hunnell to the wind before these locations are available," Chang said.

Several members of the public spoke at the commissioner's March 3 meeting, raising concerns about how a managed camp would be run. Chang drew a distinction between a managed camp, like the one the county is contracting for, and unmanaged camps like the current state of Hunnell Road. The county's managed camp will prioritize the medically vulnerable, and Chang said he won't agree to a contract that doesn't screen tenants, provide fencing, support services and have rules of conduct.

"Your brain kind of goes to the fact that we don't want to move Hunnell down to a different location. We're talking about medically fragile people. People that are looking for help. People that probably want a better situation. The real struggling troublemaker types, they're not going to be told what to do and they're not going to be going there anyway," said Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone.

The 1-acre location could hold up to 30 people. Some 80 to 100 people are currently living on Hunnell, so the County is exploring other opportunities for managed camps or safe parking spots. Another possible location is east of Bend, outside of city limits. Since that piece of land is zoned as exclusive farm use land, safe parking isn't allowed. DeBone and Chang differed on allowing those shelters, with DeBone favoring a land use exemption from the governor's office, while Chang wants the county to draft a safe parking ordinance allowing sites on rural county land.

County officials named Central Oregon Villages as a potential contractor, its executive director Nicky Merritt told the Source they'd want more information before becoming involved in the project. The nonprofit currently operates two pallet shelters outside of Bend Church, and Central Oregon Villages board member Chuck Hemingway told commissioners they'll soon have permits approved on their proposal to create a 20-unit shelter-style village by Desert Streams Church at the corner of 27th Street and Bear Creek Road.

Houseless Strategies and Solutions Director Cheyenne Purrington said the $100,000 funding from Deschutes County could cover costs, provided infrastructure is established free of charge.

"I would say that the $100,000, for a nine-month window, that we look at extending with an emergency order, would cover the initial setup and startup costs — assuming there are pro-bono contracting supports like grading, gravel, electrical and other connections as well as probably a full-time staff person that would be available to support the location — that could be a case manager or a split between a case manager or a supervisor," Purrington said.

The City postponed the camp closure the day its new city code regulating camping on public rights of way went into effect. Previously, the City had to declare a campsite dangerous before removing it, but the new code forbids camping in certain zones and requires people to move at least 600 feet every 24 hours. A joint letter from the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union, the Bend Equity Project and lawyer Thaddeaus Betz asked the City to halt implementing the code over potential conflicts with constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishments.

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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