'It seems like roses, rainbows, and happy stuff' from the city, says one concerned parent
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend city councilors recently agreed to move forward with two possible sites for managed homeless camps. One of the locations, off NE Ninth Street, has been met with quick, strong opposition.
Much of that criticism was heard at Wednesday evening's Bend City Council meeting, as dozens called in to speak during the public comment section.
Several critics said they know the homeless emergency is real and that solutions are needed, but most said the proposed site is too close to two schools, the popular Coyner Trail and neighborhoods.
The proposed location is just north of Bridgeford Boulevard, between Bend Senior High School and Bear Creak Elementary.
That prompted more than 100 teachers and support staff at the schools to sign a letter in opposition, to city councilors, after nearly 50 current and former Bend High coaches did the same.
More than 30 people, including many parents and others, spoke during the council meeting's visitor section, most critical of the site choice and voicing their concerns with children's safety, like Gary Amundson, who has two sons at Bear Creek Elementary.
"The city has come through and given Bear Creek the chance to be first in line for something here -- and it's for a homeless camp, right behind the field where my kids get to play at recess," Amundson said. "This is an experiment and thus far everyone has been very supportive of it on the council."
Amundson says the city and council members need to take a step back and look at the possible downsides of this camp being so close to several schools.
"It seems like it's all roses, rainbows, and happy stuff (from the city)," Amundson said. "And it's all so good, good, good, -- but we have to consider the negative effects."
Many callers said they don't want a homeless camp where their children walk to school, while others are concerned it could cut off access to the Coyner Trail.
Many said they are also want solutions to the homelessness issues, but this is not the place for such a camp.
A few callers did support the proposal, saying it would have a positive impact, including some who accused the critics of acting with hate and bigotry.
Jon Riggs, founder of the local nonprofit Helpers, says he believes the city is doing its due diligence, when it comes to planning, but he believes residents near any proposed managed camps will be upset.
"It's funny to hear a whole bunch of people on here talk like they've been in on this issue so long. You know some of the things that people said they wished you guys had done, I know you guys have done," Riggs said. "I don't think anything you guys do there's not going to be folks jumping out and saying no, no, no."
City Recovery Strategy and Impact Officer Carolyn Eagan says there will be a schedule, there will be order, and there will be rules to hold each other accountable. The city also promised they would have numerous safeguards, but residents and businesses say they want more answers and communication now -- not later, when it could be too late.
Before the visitors’ section, and after a statement from Councilor Melanie Kebler (you can read in full at end of this article), Eagan tried to ease neighbors’ and others’ concerns about the small, temporary sites, as the city criteria including public ownership, making the sites easier to control and set up services.
“We know that this isn’t an ideal site -- it’s in a neighborhood,” she said. “But we are trying to figure out how we can convert this site in the shortest amount of time into a place where people can stay.”
Mayor Sally Russell said councilors had received over 1,000 emails on a variety of issues. Eagan said they held the first stakeholder meeting Wednesday morning and heard a lot of concerns and questions: “We are as eager to mitigate as many of those concerns of the community has possible.”
Eagan said they plan to have a request for proposals out by the end of September, to be open for at least a month, to see what proposals are made, what safeguards would be in place. (That quick timeframe has opponents worried that it's a done deal, though the city says it's not.)
“Ultimately, we want structured housing, just like you do,” Eagan said. “Maybe someone will have a terrific idea how to bring more structured housing to the site. But we do have an emergency and an emergency need. There are clear provisions under state law to determine all the safeguards.” The city also will take part in an upcoming neighborhood association meeting, she said.
Councilor Melanie Kebler read this statement before the public comment section began:
"We have received many emails and phone calls about the proposed sites for solutions for our unhoused neighbors, and we hear your concerns, including the specific concerns of school parents, coaches, and school staff.
We ask the community to keep an open mind as we work through the process of evaluating these sites as a place for this type of emergency housing, which service providers are telling us is needed in our City.
Why are we doing this? Because our unhoused neighbors are just that – neighbors and people living in our community who all deserve a safe place to lay their head at night. They deserve safety and the dignity of having a place to call home.
Many of the comments we’ve received contain valid and important concerns about how solutions for our unhoused neighbors, like a managed outdoor community, could fit into the neighborhood, which we will absolutely take into consideration. But many of the comments have contained assumptions and misinformation that I’d like to speak to.
I want to encourage everyone listening tonight to consider that there is not one single type of person who is or can become homeless in our community. This population is not a monolith, and just like people who live in houses, they all have different needs requiring different types of shelter and services.
I have the privilege of never having had to live without shelter or a home. So I can’t imagine the trauma of not having a house to live in, having to live in my car or in a tent, having to continue to take care of my child or go to my job without a safe place to sleep every night. This City Council feels that the need to help people currently living on our streets to get into safer, more stable housing situations is an urgent need, and we are taking action accordingly.
For the community, I will echo the sentiment that the Bend Bulletin editorial board wrote this last week: The situation for our unhoused neighbors is not going to improve in Bend unless people start saying: How can we this make this work? Instead of: Not here.
I ask the community for compassion and patience as we continue to evaluate this site. We are at the very beginning stages of the process. We will continue to have conversations with community members and do public outreach as this initiative moves forward, to make sure that any proposal that is up for approval of Council addresses and mitigates community concerns. Thank you to everyone who is here tonight to speak to us. Carolyn Eagan, our Recovery Strategy and Impact Officer, will talk specifics about 9th Street site and the idea of a managed village, which we know many people are interested in."