BEND, OR -- When freezing temperatures hit the region, emergency responders are often the first line of help for those struggling with homelessness. But, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter says not all without shelter are willing to get in from the cold. "There’s a broad spectrum of issues that we face with individuals living outside in camps who are, if you will, homeless or travelers or whatever they want to label themselves as. It starts with, a lot of these people have mild to severe mental illness and they do not want assistance." But, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter says there are a variety of reasons why some refuse help – ranging from mental illness to a pet that’s not allowed at a shelter.
He says those battling addictions usually know they would need to quit their habit before entering a shelter. "They just cannot go into someplace like the Bethlehem Inn
because it’s drug and alcohol free. And then we have those who have dogs, and a lot of shelters don’t take dogs. These folks lead a very solitary life and their animals mean everything to them, so it’s hard for them to separate. A lot of them have so many personal belongings that they can’t pack them all over."
But, Chief Porter says officers are often dispatched to check on someone sleeping outside, when a concerned citizen calls in. "We determine at that point are they a threat to themselves by not getting assistance? And then we have some statutory authority to take them into custody to keep them from freezing to death or dying." He says officers try not to force someone into custody, and that’s when Critical Response Teams are dispatched. "[They] help them get to a shelter, relieve their problems and try to solve advanced problems – what are we going to do with your dog while you’re being treated for the frostbite you’ve incurred. Because, quite frankly, it’s not unusual for us to find people who have been a victim of weather."
Chief Porter says anyone worried about the safety of someone living outside, should call 911 and let officers evaluate the proper response.