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Redmond church’s plans to expand safe parking program for homeless hits rough sledding before city council

(Update: Adding video, comments from pastor, residents, speakers at council meeting)

REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Redmond's Mountain View Fellowship Church says its "safe parking" program to help the homeless has been successful for nearly a year and it plans to expand to new locations in coming weeks. But one location has prompted dismay among neighbors who say they were not informed, and the City Council will be weighing in after getting an earful Tuesday night.

The visitors' section of the council meeting lasted quite awhile, as many spoke, both in support and opposed, but councilors vowed to take more public input before anything more happens at .

The program, which NewsChannel 21 first reported on a year ago, along with city council support, provides safe places for people dealing with housing issues to park and sleep in their vehicles.

It allows two to four people to live in their vehicles behind the church and provides case management for them. The goal is to help them find stable long-term housing.

The program also is currently operating at Redmond's VFW hall.

Pastor Rick Russell told NewsChannel 21 Tuesday they are looking to expand the program to other locations. He said there will be about 20 "safe parking" spots available around the community by the end of September.

But a planned location at Northwest 19th Street and Pershall Way brought neighbors' opposition and concerns, as many learned of it in just the past week, despite several meetings Russell has held. It's on about 30 acres of city-owned land that would continue to be a farm, along with two groups of three vehicles each on two locations.

Russell said the church reached out to neighbors after a rumor spread about the plans, sending out a letter and holding a meeting to inform people and attempt to allay fears of what was coming.

"The city's been asking what can they do to support the program, and so we asked for locations -- more locations we can operate the program," Russell said.

"Homeless camps that exist around the community where it's a free-for-all. I think they're worried about that showing up at their property," Russell said. "That's not what we operate. We're a very quiet and case-managed program. I understand their concerns. We don't want that to be a part of our community either, which is why we brought this program."

Some worried residents contacted NewsChannel 21 in recent days, expressing concern that neighbors or the general public have not been notified about the plans.

I spoke to some Redmond residents who asked that their faces not be shown, but wanted to voice their concerns.

A Redmond resident said, "We are concerned the fact that 19th Street runs down directly to the (Dry) Canyon, and it's a perfect parking place for campers to come down here."

Norma Brenton said, "No, we weren't happy with the way the meeting went at all. They just kind of sugar-coated everything, and let it go at that."

Jenny Hurst said, "We've been left in the dark-- the people that it's affecting the most."  

Greg Crivellone said, "I was at the meeting at the church last week, and have spoken to quite a few residents in the area. They're very upset about it -- very afraid of the crime."

Russell said they defer to the owners of other properties on how to notify the neighbors. Sanitation, services, a case manager, and security cameras will be provided.

A large crowd showed up to speak in the visitors' section of Tuesday night's Redmond City Council meeting, as it was not on the agenda.

Several speakers involved with the program or related efforts to help the homeless urged the council to continue its support of the program, which they said is safe and properly managed

But numerous others were upset over not being notified and had only learned of it recently. They said the chosen location is a dark, secluded area, away from services the homeless need. One listed several other locations around the city that she felt would be more suitable, as they have water, sewer and power.

"You're putting them in a cow pasture," a woman said. "The secrecy and disrespect seems like blatant corruption."

After plenty of testimony - some emotional - and efforts by Russell and others to provide information and answer questions, several city councilors agreed that the process in terms of public notification had been handled badly.

Councilor Ed Fitch said, "I agree the process could have been done much, much better." Having visited the city-owned site, Fitch said there should be discussions with Deschutes County on no-parking signage or other steps along 19th Street to avoid it "being turned into Hunnell Road," Bend's location of numerous homeless people's RVs and campers.

"I support the program, but the way it was done stinks," Councilor Jay Patrick said.

The council had approved $50,000 in federal ARPA funds for the program a year ago, but City Manager Keith Witcosky admitted the process went awry and admitted that there should have been a work session on the Pershall site plans and the use of other Public Works funds for the safe parking program.

Witcosky and Mayor George Endicott said a work session on the program and site will take place at a council meeting in two weeks. Until then, Endicott promised, no work on the location will happen.

"We're collectively very concerned, and apologize for how this all came about," he said. "We'll do better."

Article Topic Follows: Redmond
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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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