With a little under four months until the new Bend camping code goes into effect, the city already has boots on the ground.
A pair of those boots belongs to Sherri Meisel, the health and safety compliance coordinator with the City of Bend.
“I do mainly outreach, education and try and gain compliance through that as opposed to doing some kind of enforcement,” said Meisel.
Meisel will be one of the people implementing the camping code in March, but right now, she is working with unhoused people: building trust and offering resources.
She hands out food and trash bags, checks in on people and makes sure rights-of-ways are maintained.
Meisel is doing this because eventually she will have to ask the same people to move and she wants them to cooperate with her when the time comes.
“The goal is not to have people camping in the right-of-way or sheltering but to help them find other ways to of, you know, trying to find a better, safer place to live,” said Meisel.
Bend’s code enforcement officers will also have to apply the camping code.
“The biggest change for us is going to be more monitoring and documenting,” said Jason Gault, a code enforcement officer. “When camps appear there’ll be a 24-hour time clock.”
Meisel and Gault will have to keep track of which campers are being compliant and working with service providers, how long certain camps have been in specific locations and how large those camps are getting.
“I would rather someone like me or myself be here to help as opposed to having police officers or law enforcement have to step in. It’s not criminal and so we don’t want it to feel like that,” said Meisel.
When asked about how she will deal with unhoused people who do not want to move, empathy will be Meisel’s approach.
“It’s going to be a challenge because it’s going to be hard on them,” said Meisel. “I mean they’ve been there for a while. It would be like anybody else living in a house saying, ‘Oh you can’t live here anymore.’”
A county construction project that will expand Hunnell Road is expected to begin in March. By then, the people living on Hunnell Road will have to move.