One week before the closure of Hunnell Road to the homeless who were living there, the Deschutes National Forest supervisor expressed concerns to Bend and Deschutes County leaders to reconsider. She also expressed concerns about a draft plan to sweep Juniper Ridge.
In a letter dated July 11, Deschutes National Forest Supervisor Holly Jewkes shared her thoughts with Bend City Manager Eric King and Deschutes County Administrator Nick Lelack.
Jewkes cited “the potential movement of well over one hundred individuals to other locations including the Deschutes National Forest.” She also cited fire risk and resource damage as major concerns and asked for a combined effort to create more options.
“This is a troubling development, as we anticipate many of the displaced individuals moving to other locations on the Deschutes National Forest, such as China Hat,” Jewkes wrote.
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She also cited increases in long-term campers onto Forest land after they were removed from Oregon Department of Transportation property along Highway 97 and from 2nd Street in Bend.
King responded the same day, saying in a letter that the city was willing to talk further, but still planned to move forward with the Hunnell Road closure. King wrote that the City was cautious about trying to not remove camps until there were enough shelter beds available.
“However, we do know that many of the folks living along Hunnell will not take advantage of these additional beds brought into the system and that camping will continue to occur,” King wrote.
He noted that the City enacted a time, place and manner camping code in March. He said that camping in the city is not totally banned as long as the restrictions in the code are followed.
There is no word yet on a date for when the county may sweep Juniper Ridge.
Despite efforts in court by people living on Hunnell Road to delay the sweep, the road was closed as planned on July 18. Some of those with disabilities were given an extra week.
The City said it plans to clean the road, repaint it and then eventually reopen it under the camping code restrictions.
The City told Central Oregon Daily News Thursday the Coordinated Houseless Response Office is planning for a roundtable in a few weeks that will include the Forest Service.
Read the letter from Jewkes below, followed by Eric King’s response.
Thank you for your letter. I completely understand the hardship that we all face as public agencies in trying to make decisions on issues related to homelessness that balance all interests, including those agencies managing public lands, ensuring community health and safety, and increasing shelter and housing capacity that create more permanent solutions.
In Bend, we have been cautious not to remove large camps unless there has been additional shelter beds added to our capacity. Council set a goal of having 500 shelter beds in this biennium (July 1, 2021 through June 30, 223). We’ve nearly met that goal of 482 beds. You can see our dashboard of capacity here (scroll to the bottom of the page).
More recently, the City was successful in obtaining both County and State OEM (Governor’s funding) to open up the Rainbow Hotel on Franklin to add 60 beds and we have also funded our first outdoor shelter in partnership with Central Oregon Villages, which will have 20 units available (several just opened a few weeks ago) by the end of this summer. In total, 80 beds have been added to the system in the past few months- more than the number of folks living near Hunnell.
It was this additional capacity which is currently open and operating, along with a citywide application of our camping code that went into effect in March and the public health and safety issues that were continuing to escalate that we felt that it was now the right time to remove camps along Hunnell.
However, we do know that many of the folks living along Hunnell will not take advantage of these additional beds brought into the system and that camping will continue to occur. The City’s camping code does allow for camping under time, place and manner restrictions- it is not a complete ban, so as long as folks comply with those restrictions, there will be options in Bend available.
There is also the question of allowing sanctioned camping in certain areas. Our general philosophy at the City is that sanctioned camping should come with onsite services, oversight and case management. So far, we have not been able to fund a non-profit provider or government entity to provide this service. We have offered up land at Juniper Ridge and on S. Hwy 97 as potential locations- but that is only part of the equation. As mentioned, we do have an outdoor shelter with pallet structures now opened at 27th and Bear Creek, which may reduce some of the barriers for folks that are camping and don’t want shelter.
Coordination is definitely key amongst all the partners in the region. We are in the process of re-positioning the Coordinated Houseless Response Office (CHRO) and are looking for more opportunities to engage the Forest Service and other partners in addressing this issue at a regional scale. We’ll have more to share about the Strategic Plan and updated Governance models in the coming weeks.
I’m happy to talk further about any of these actions, codes, strategies, and possible partnership. As each City and County in Central Oregon adopts camping codes, we do need to coordinate their respective impacts. Consistency is definitely the goal and I agree your request for continued engagement. Please let me know if you’d be willing to meet with Nick and myself to talk in more detail and strategize solutions. If so, please let me know who to work with in your office to get something scheduled soon.