(Update: Adding video, comments by county commissioners)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Deschutes County commissioners voted 2-1 this week to join the cities of Bend and Redmond and allow “safe parking” sites outside the two cities for homeless people needing a safe place to park RVs, using similar rules and involving churches and their parking lots.
County commissioners earlier this year directed staff to develop a draft of a safe parking program in the unincorporated county for limited overnight parking by people experiencing homelessness that has similar requirements and rules as the two cities.
When it came time Wednesday to vote on the proposed orders and regulations, commissioners Phil Chang and Patti Adair were in support, but commission Chair Tony DeBone was not.
The program will allow property owners the ability to offer overnight parking for people battling houselessness.
Chang is among those who believe the safe parking program will provide a safe place to stay for those now in homeless camps or the woods who seek a safer place to stay and a path toward a more secure future.
"In our community, there are people who have tried to foster this narrative that all homeless people are drug addicts who aren't from here and who don't want to work," Chang said Thursday. "And there may be a slice of our homeless population that that's an accurate description of, but it is by no means the majority.“
Safe parking has been allowed recently on property within the Bend and Redmond city limits, but will now be allowed throughout the Bend and Redmond urban growth boundaries and within a mile of the UGBs as well.
Adair said the churches that currently provide the "safe parking" have seen benefits from doing so.
“They tell me that actually, it makes their parking lot safer, because they have a couple vehicles in their parking lot," she said. "They're allowed to have up to like six (RVs and campers), and it makes everything safer, which, you know, people would think maybe not. And the wonderful news is, those homeless people look out for each other.”
Bend currently has 16 safe parking spots, while Redmond has 50 spots.
Adair said the four such lots in Bend have seen success. They offer basic infrastructure such as a bathroom, trash cans, sanitation and charging of devices. People can only be accepted into safe parking after they are screened and agree to abide by the rules.
But DeBone voted no Wednesday, saying he didn't believe safe parking sites outside the cities are necessary -- at least, he hadn't heard any demand or requests for them.
"I don't know that anybody's out there that is going to exercise this," he said Thursday. "You know, we talked about it at our board meeting, and I said, 'Well, is anybody asking for this or doing this?' And I haven't heard of anything. So if somebody want to do this, let me know. It'd be interesting to hear.”
DeBone also expressed his concern regarding state land-use rules restricting where larger parcels for homeless services are allowed, which he believes would be more beneficial than small "safe parking" sites.
The safe parking, offered at no cost to houseless people, and the county hosts their own safe parking on county land, having invested in case management to oversee the areas.
Chang said he hopes allowing safe parking areas outside the two cities will prove beneficial.
“This is a successful program, and this is a completely safe thing for the hosts of safe parking to do for them," he said. "And with that knowledge, I hope that more and more people will step up and offer to host safe parking, to help us put a dent in this problem.”