BEND, OR -- A week after the deal to develop a managed homeless camp in Bend fell apart, Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang believes there may still be a path forward. He was the lone Commissioner opposed to backing out of the plan, "I think that there is a major strain between at least two of the Board of Commissioners and the Bend City Council," Chang told KBND News Tuesday, "And, we’re going to have to mend some fences, build trust, communicate a lot and come up with some well thought out partnership plans in order to patch that up."
After initially agreeing to help secure a service provider to manage the city's planned camp on Murphy Road, Commissioners Tony DeBone and Patti Adair voted to back out. Chang says, "I don’t think that they are entirely closed to the idea of managed camping or safe parking anywhere in the Bend vicinity. But, they did not indicate a willingness to proceed with seeking developers and operators on Wednesday. My hope is that there will be some movement, maybe when emotions cool a little bit."
He believes a managed camp can work. Chang points to Medford, where he says a managed camp is helping protect campers and neighbors, "It’s got a fence that is closed at night. It has some temporary carport structures over wood shipping pallets that people can set tents up on, water tank, porta-potties. So, basic infrastructure. But what’s really, really important about Medford Urban Campground #1 is that it has 24/7 management." Chang says that management includes established structures, pre-screening and rules. And, space for service providers to help campers take steps out of homelessness.
Chang says in the past few weeks, he's heard from dozens of people; some oppose the proposed Murphy Road location, others worried about the current sanctioned camp at Hunnel Road - a site that needs to be cleared for road construction, "I have heard from people in the China Hat area who are concerned that dispersing people from Hunnell Road will send more people to China Hat Road." He believes that’s exactly what will happen without a plan, "When you close one unauthorized homeless encampment without presenting people an authorized, planned, developed, managed, serviced place to go, they just go some other place that’s unauthorized."
He says he sent a letter to each of the people who reach out to him, explaining his position and what he believes the city and county can accomplish (below) . Chang told KBND News, "I would love for the county to be a partner with the city in both developing the places for people to go and also providing the wrap-around services that are necessary for people to take steps out of homelessness. We need them both."
Thank you for contacting me about homelessness in the Bend area, Hunnell Road, or a proposed managed camp at Murphy Road. As you may have heard, in a 2-to-1 vote the County Board of Commissioners withdrew from a planned partnership for a managed camp with the City of Bend on Wednesday and did not seek to identify other locations for a managed camp. I wanted to share my perspective on homelessness in our community and the role of managed camps in reducing it.
Unauthorized, unmanaged homeless camping has reached unacceptable levels in our community. Unplanned camps like Hunnell or China Hat Road were not deliberately established to shelter people and do not have appropriate infrastructure or services for people to be living there. These places do not offer a pathway out of homelessness and do not serve anyone – not the community, not nearby residents and businesses, and not the homeless themselves.
Hunnell Road needs to be cleared and closed to camping. But we need appropriate places for people to go when that clearing happens. Ideally we would have enough affordable housing, indoor shelter, and transitional housing and adequate supportive services to offer to each person who is ready to take the pathway out of homelessness. Until we have enough of these indoor options, we will need managed camps and safe parking as interim solutions.
A managed camp is not what we see at Hunnell Road. Currently, there is no managed camp to look at as an example in Central Oregon. One of the better examples in Oregon is Medford Urban Campground, a facility operated by Rogue Retreat in Medford: https://www.rogueretreat.org/housing-shelter/
This facility offers basic sanitation, dry sheltered tent sites, and is fenced and gated. To be allowed to stay at Medford Urban Campground, people go through screening, agree to follow site rules, and sign up for a progress plan. 24-7 site managers and a range of service providers help residents move forward with their progress plans and to take steps out of homelessness. The site managers ensure residents are following the rules and keep the camp safe.
If the City of Bend or Deschutes County clears people from an unauthorized location like Hunnell Road without appropriate housing, shelter, managed camps, or safe parking sites lined up we are not solving a problem, we are just moving unauthorized camping to a new location and causing stress to a new set of nearby residents and businesses.
We need to get serious about developing the managed camp and safe parking sites our community needs to reduce unauthorized camping and provide people real stepping stones out of homelessness. The city-owned property at Murphy Road was just one option for a managed camp. On Wednesday March 8th, the Board of County Commissioners had the opportunity to request proposals from community service providers to develop and operate managed camps or safe parking sites anywhere in the Bend area, not just Murphy Road. My fellow Commissioners chose not to request any proposals for any Bend area locations on Wednesday, not just to withdraw County partnership on Murphy. They chose for the County to do nothing about homelessness in the Bend area.
I will continue to push for the County to play an active role in helping to create the affordable housing, indoor shelter, transitional housing, mental health and addiction treatment facilities, managed camps, and safe parking that our community needs to reduce unauthorized camping and unsheltered homelessness across the entire County.
With the right support services and places to temporarily live there are many people in our community who can transition out of homelessness – youth and families with children, working people who can’t afford rent, seniors with chronic illnesses, and veterans. The vast majority of our local homeless population are long term Central Oregonians. If we dramatically reduce the number of unsheltered homeless in our community by providing real pathways out of homelessness, the remaining homeless population will be much easier to deal with.
Thank you again for contacting me and I hope you will continue to be part of the discussions and planning efforts to develop the facilities and services we need to reduce homelessness in our community.