• Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

Bend plans another camp sweep, while residents say they have nowhere to go

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Oct 18, 2022

Rena has been homeless in Bend for over six years. During this period, she often had to move campsites due to camp sweeps by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“You have to watch them throw your things away,” said Rena, who did not give her last name, outside her tent. “I literally watched a backhoe pick up my house that I lived in for almost nine months.”

She said having to move is always a difficult and traumatic experience. In a week, she will have to start again.

Rena, a homeless person in Bend, sits outside her tent with her dog, Scooby. The city of Bend plans to remove her and others camping in the area after the site was declared a public safety hazard.

Joni Land/OPB

The city of Bend is planning a third sweep in two years of a homeless campsite on Oct. 25, this time on 2nd Street, where dozens have pitched tents as a way to find shelter. City officials say the campsite, which has about 11 tents, is a public safety hazard and should be removed.

In a city memo dated Oct. 10, City Manager Eric King wrote that Bend’s efforts to manage the site had failed to assuage health and safety concerns.

“The totality of the circumstances … created a threat to public health, safety and the environment,” King wrote in his memo outlining the sweeping decision.

In a report on conditions at the camp, Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz noted the high number of calls for service, trash and perceived criminal behavior.

Krantz wrote in his report that police conducted an assessment of the campsite on Sept. 22, during which officers found a large accumulation of trash. It also noted 121 calls to police in the area the previous month.

Police arrested nine people at the camp last month, with various charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct, warrants and criminal mischief, Krantz wrote.

Rena, the camp resident, said the city provides them with trash bags, which are then picked up by a contractor every week. She said any mess in the camp is because residents have nowhere to put their belongings.

This all comes as the city council is still drafting a camping code that will determine when, where and how people are allowed to camp within city limits.

Bend spokeswoman Anne Aurand said the timing of the sweep was unrelated to the code change, but city staff could not wait for the council to enact it.

“We don’t know exactly when the city council will conclude the development of this code, it could take weeks,” Aurand said by telephone. “I just think this particular campsite is currently something we want to run.”

The city did not publicly announce the sweep, but sent an email notifying service providers Oct. 10 and posted notices around the camp two days later. One such notice was attached to Rena’s tent on Monday.

She said she didn’t yet know where she would go – having a dog and struggling with mental health issues put many options out of reach.

The availability of resources for homeless people remains. Councilor Megan Perkins said the council had been working to open up more accommodation space, but much was still under construction.

David Notari, director of development for Shepherd’s House Ministries, a low-barrier shelter in Bend, said closing the camp will likely lead to more people seeking services and Shepherd’s House will expand beyond its capacity to 100 beds if necessary.

This is the third time recently that the city has removed a campground for the homeless. In 2021, a sweep on Emerson Avenue led Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel to criticize the city for its sweep after police arrested a man who broke police lines to use a restroom laptops.

Several people on 2nd Street said they lived in Emerson before the city closed the camp and are now facing another move.

The city council said in January it would aim to stop sweeping camps and instead open up to 500 new accommodation beds. But many of those spaces, Perkins said, are still under construction.

“Even though we’ve done everything we could do over the past two years, we still haven’t been able to get to the point where our whole community has a place where they feel safe,” said Perkins.

Perkins said he received multiple emails from area landlords and business owners about alleged incidents with homeless people in recent weeks.

As for what will happen to those removed from 2nd Street, we still don’t know. Aurand said the city provides residents with information directing them to services, but there’s no way to know where someone actually is.

King has previously said there aren’t enough services for the number of homeless people in central Oregon – about 1,300 adults and children, according to the 2022 count.

Rena was more pessimistic about the city’s willingness to help people experiencing homelessness. She said she had been homeless on and off since she was 13 and that Bend was the most hostile towards homeless people of all the places she had lived.

“I never thought being on this side could be so awful – people here do it like that,” she said.