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Bend Mayor Kebler testifies in Salem, advocating for continued funding of emergency shelters, transitional housing

(Update: adding video, comment from Mayor Kebler and executive director of RootedHomes)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend Mayor Melanie Kebler traveled to the state Capitol Tuesday to testify on behalf of Senate Bill 1530, which allocates funding for affordable housing, homelessness prevention and emergency shelter services, among other elements.

The primary focus of Mayor Kebler's trip was to advocate before the Senate Committee on Housing & Development for $65 million in shelter funding. Mayor Pro Tem Megan Perkins, who serves as chair of Deschutes the Coordinated Houseless Response Office, joined Mayor Kebler on the trip to Salem.

If the bill does not pass the Legislature, Kebler said Wednesday, Bend will lose crucial funding to homeless services, such as funding for shelters.

If that happens, she said, "We're going to see hundreds of people back on the streets. So we don't want to lose those resources, and we need the state's help to continue them. Our city budget can't sustain continuing to fund operations for these."

"We've got especially two really crucial resources: the Lighthouse Navigation Center and the Stepping Stone Shelter (the former Bend Value Inn on NE Division Street) that are really helping people and are a big part of our continuum of shelter to housing."

The $65 million in funding for homeless services such as shelters comes from Oregon's general fund. The mayor says by mid-next year, a gap may emerge in shelter funding.

Kebler said the shelters are "moving people through into more permanent housing. There are 230 people into more permanent housing now. And they're serving meals, and they're keeping people warm at night and out of the smoke, and all of those things. So it's a really crucial resource for our community."

Despite testifying for primarily one section of the bill, representatives from local nonprofits also made their way to Salem to advocate for affordable housing, also included in this bill. Bend-Redmond Habitat for Humanity and RootedHomes submitted a letter to the committee on the need for affordable housing funding.

Rooted Homes Executive Director Jackie Keogh said Wednesday, "We supported that bill because it had significant reinvestment in funding for affordable housing under Oregon Housing Community Services LIFT (Local Innovation and Fast Track) program. And so that was a current request, to maintain funding at the level that Central Oregon needs."

Unfortunately, lawmakers did remove $15 million from the bill, which would have gone specifically to affordable housing. Keogh said she believes "they removed it because it comes from general fund money. And general fund money is limited."

"Without those funds, we reduce the number of units we can build and we extend the timeline for up to three to five years. And so we need the $15 million incorporated back into the bill so that we can produce enough housing."

RootedHomes is funded by the Organizing Community Services LIFT program and receives funding from the state. This bill could potentially limit or remove funding for the program that organizations such as RootedHomes benefit from. Keogh advises residents to contact their state representatives to ask for it to be put back in the bill.

RootedHomes has 150 units spread across five pieces of land that they're planning to develop.

"We could develop those tomorrow, if we had enough funding to do it," Keogh said. "That $15 million is a significant portion of available funding that we would ask for in an upcoming funding cycle."

The nonprofit's goal is to build one community a year in Central Oregon, so that there are more affordable houses available to low-income individuals, most of whom are essential workers. Without the $15 million, that timeline would have to be pushed back a few years.

The bill did receive unanimous support for the Senate Committee on Housing and Development moving it on to the next phase of debate and eventual votes in the House and Senate. The mayor said she is hopeful and confident it will make it to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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