SISTERS, OR -- The Sisters City Council is poised to deny a request for an extreme-weather shelter in a permanent location. Sisters has never had a permanent homeless shelter. For years, churches rotated hosting space during weather emergencies; volunteers manage the facility with help from Shepherd's House. But, in recent years, the number of available locations has dwindled, and last winter, there was no cold-weather shelter in Sisters.
During a five-hour public hearing this week, Diane Prichard told Councilors she and the shelter board have secured $1.4 million from the Governor’s emergency order to purchase and operate a facility on Barclay Drive, "So, we have the funding and a suitable building, with a willing seller that meets the needs." The group also said it will work with the city, "We agree to the four staff-recommended conditions of approval." But Mayor Michael Preedin and Councilor Jennifer Letz expressed frustration with new state rules for shelters, including mandates they must be sited inside an Urban Growth Boundary. "These house bills were intended for larger communities with more resources, not a community like ours," said Councilor Letz.
Mayor Preedin also believes the facility will attract more homeless to the area, "If we approve this, even with conditions, I feel the safety could get worse. Not by our homeless that are here already; it’s other homeless that come to find the showers or the mental health services that we currently don’t have." He echoed concerns raised by dozens from the community who testified in the public hearing. Councilor Susan Cobb disagrees, "It’s a difficult decision, but it’s an opportunity to help those that can’t necessarily help themselves. I do not see where we would be inviting people from other towns, since we’re surrounded by other towns that have much more services."
In a preliminary vote, Councilor Cobb and Council President Andrea Blum supported the shelter’s plan with conditions. Mayor Preedin and Councilor Letz opposed. Councilor Gary Ross cast the deciding vote in opposition. He told the shelter board, "My frustration, to some degree, is I still don’t see a cohesive, coherent plan as to how this is going to be run. I hear you say what you’re going to do, and I hear what you want to do. But that’s an awful lot of hear and not an awful lot of ‘see’ written down on paper that allows me to be able to determine whether this is a functional, working thing. And that hurts you with me."
A final decision will be made September 19th.