Navigating the Houseless Crisis | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Navigating the Houseless Crisis

A large houseless camp was cleared, while the City, County and state take steps to get people off the street

At the crack of dawn on March 14 the Bend Police Department arrived at the Second Street camp to clear campers off public right of ways. Bend City Manager Eric King declared the campsite unsafe after a report from BPD deemed it unsafe on Feb. 16, under criteria approved by the Bend City Council in December.

The campsite surged after the Oregon Department of Transportation cleared the on-ramp to Highway 97 on Revere Avenue in October, which itself swelled after Emerson Avenue was cleared in June. The City is required to give campers at least two weeks' notice and service providers 72-hour notice, though service providers said they were informed earlier than the minimum requirements.

"There were several service providers that were down there having conversations with people, kind of chatting about what they needed to make sure that they were able to move, whether that was a cart to pull their items, whether they needed a new tent or other items," said Stacey Witte, executive director of REACH, an organization that provides outreach to houseless people.

Navigating the Houseless Crisis
ODOT workers clear a camp on Division Street in February. The person who submitted the photo stressed that ODOT workers were mindful and courteous throughout.

Witte said REACH conducted assessments to connect people with different housing options like the newly opened Division Street Shelter. Most of the displaced campers moved to already existing camps like those on Hunnel Road, China Hat Road and smaller campsites dispersed throughout town.

"I think that when someone has to move further out of the area, there are some more challenges," Witte said. Challenges can include access to food and water, transportation and propane. Longer commutes can often be devastating for houseless people who are susceptible to theft when they leave their belongings out.

Director of Development at Shepherd's House David Notari said the overnight shelter on Second Street saw a couple former Second Street campers stay, but that most have dispersed to other campsites. Project S.H.A.R.E., Shepherd's House's team that does direct outreach to campsites across town, attempts to build relationships in the hopes people will eventually use shelters rather than camping.

"I think that's one of the key factors in helping a person to develop trust so that they would step into a shelter, because many of them have anxiety about that, have apprehensions about that," Notari said. "We've seen a little increase based upon that Second Street closure. But the reality is that there are many who are stuck in the dilemma of homelessness who don't want to live in a shelter."

There's a challenge connecting people to services who don't want to live in a shelter, but officials hope it can be partially addressed with the creation of a navigation center.

Navigation Center

On March 16 the Bend City Council gave its initial approval to establish a new city navigation center, a low-barrier emergency shelter that connects individuals and families with health services, public benefits and permanent housing. 

The Oregon legislature awarded Bend and six other Oregon cities $2.5 million in funding to establish a navigation center. Since confirming state funding was coming its way in June, city officials have been consulting with regional service providers to determine just what a new navigation center would look like. 

"It's a pretty broad definition. You need to be providing daytime services for families and individuals that are connecting people with public benefit with resources for permanent housing," said Amy Fraley, affordable housing coordinator for the City of Bend.  

Ideally navigation centers include case management, behavior and physical health referrals, addiction services or referrals, daily meals and ways to obtain documents helpful for getting re-housed, such as state IDs and social security cards. The City put out a Request for Qualifications in December 2021 to gauge interest and ability of local service providers. 

"We all had an opportunity to really sit down and understand what people were comfortable doing and what they wanted to do. Do some interviews, and then with that we issued the RFP in November of 2021. We did a pre submittal public meeting in December. And then by the time we got to the actual submission deadline, we only had Shepherd's House that wanted to move forward, which made a lot of sense," Fraley said. 

Shepherd's House does coordinate and conduct some services already at its Second Street nightly shelter location. It reported it's connected 10 people with addiction treatment programs, 23 people to supportive housing and assisted living and reconnected 15 to private housing since October. Still, as an overnight shelter with little permanency, it's been a challenge connecting people to resources from there.  

"Because there's no daytime use, there hasn't been an opportunity to have folks there during the day. It's really difficult for service providers to come into that space and use that space as a hub of service, which is what we're trying to do," Fraley said. "They have been focused on giving people a meal and a safe place to stay overnight." 

Shepherd's House's facility on Second Street will need a commercial kitchen and additional showers to fit under the definition of a navigation center, which would necessitate a sewer water pipe upgrade. It's expected to have 24/7 staffing, services and continued participation in the homeless management information system by June 30. Once that's completed Shepherd's House will focus on the over 400 people who've already stayed with them before expanding to serve a broader population in 2023 that goes beyond shelter guests.

"Walk up services is one area that was discussed so that people could, instead of having to be a shelter guests, they might just need some basic assistance, or referrals for something like getting a Social Security Card or a license or some housing vouchers or a variety of other services that don't require that person to necessarily be part of being in the shelter itself overnight," Notari said.

The City will contribute just under $1.3 million a year for the project and $46,400 in startup costs taken from its general fund and from American Rescue Act funds. The City can renew the contract for up to two two-year contracts after the first three years. Another state initiative targeted on homeless is the coordinated response office, sponsored by Bend's representative in Salem, Rep. Jason Kropf.

Navigating the Houseless Crisis
Credit Jack Harvel
The Second Street Shelter currently houses people overnight, but with a mix of state and local funding it'll expand its services and be open during the daytime.

Joint Office

The Oregon legislature also sent $1 million to eight Oregon counties, including Deschutes, to form coordinated response offices for houselessness. Each office would include an advisory board, and the counties are expected to develop a five-year plan to increase or improve services, incorporate best practice while eliminating racial disparities and creating paths to permanent housing.

"The goal of this is to provide some money so our cities and counties can start a joint office, can work with our community partners, have an overall vision and strategic plan in a community where we're working on this, that hopefully, this will accelerate that," Kropf said.

Prior to this concept the Homeless Leadership Coalition filled the role of a county wide office that works with different service providers in the tri-county area — including Crook and Jefferson counties. The Emergency Homeless Task Force is also something of a precursor to the coordinated response office that brought together service providers in the county and Bend to identify opportunities for greater care and to develop action toward ending homelessness. The coordinated office, however, could be the first to incorporate all Central Oregon municipalities.

“Because there's no daytime use, there hasn't been an opportunity to have folks there during the day. It's really difficult for service providers to come into that space and use that space as a hub of service, which is what we're trying to do.”—Amy Fraley

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"I hope that each of the cities will be a full partner and full participant in the coordinated office," Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang said. "One of the jobs of the coordinating office is to produce a strategic plan. If the people who participate in this new effort—the coordinated response office—basically, the strategic plan that was produced by the Emergency Homelessness Task Force, then we can spend less time planning and more time doing."

County officials met with the Redmond City Council on March 15 to begin the collaborative process, and with the Sisters City Council on March 9. Chang said he's seen a difference in how different municipalities are addressing the issue of houselessness. Whereas Bend is aggressively looking to increase the number of shelter beds and services for the unhoused, cities with less visible houseless populations aren't as likely to fund shelters. In September, Redmond tabled a proposal to fund a homeless shelter with American Rescue Plan Act funds, and Chang said Sisters has been hesitant to add additional houseless facilities.

"It's quite possible that we should be dealing with these issues differently from community to community," Chang said. "It's probably a better idea to think about providing a central location on a regional basis. So the services and facilities that we provide, these should look different across the county, but my hope is that all of the jurisdictions will come to the discussion excited to create the facilities that we need regionally. Even if that means there are certain kinds of facilities that it doesn't make sense to create in every city and county."

About The Author

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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