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Can't Camp Here

Bend City Council adopts a policy for the removal of houseless camps on public right of ways. With shelters at capacity, where will they go?

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The Bend City Council unanimously approved a new policy on campsite removals for camps in City right of ways at its meeting June 2. The Council tailored the conversation to one of the City’s most visible camps, on Emerson Avenue. On Monday social service providers received the notice to engage with camp residents to prepare for the camp’s removal. 

The policy sets benchmarks for declaring a camp unsafe, and the process for removing them. Fire hazards, accumulation of trash, calls for police service, public urination and impeding on roadways could all be cited as reasons for deeming a camp unsafe, according to the new policy. The City will give at least two weeks' notice to residents, and coordinate with service providers before removing a camp, and they must store any confiscated property for at least 30 days for retrieval. 

The City Council’s input on the policy made it specific to Emerson until the policy can be further analyzed, to coordinate with St. Charles Medical Center and Mosaic Medical to ensure COVID safety, a longer notice given to residents and to explore using American Rescue Plan Act funds for a managed camp. 

The policy was met with criticism from people who work with the camps. Eleven people called in for public comment during the June 2 meeting to oppose the camp’s removal. Some said the City’s new criteria didn’t apply to the camp on Emerson because the area offers resources for people there.  

Camps line both sides of Emerson Avenue in Bend. On Wednesday, June 2, Bend City Council adopted policies that set criteria for camp removals in public right of ways. - JACK HARVEL
  • Jack Harvel
  • Camps line both sides of Emerson Avenue in Bend. On Wednesday, June 2, Bend City Council adopted policies that set criteria for camp removals in public right of ways.
“The camp at Emerson is actually one of the locations where we have trash collection and restrooms at no cost to the City, so you cannot justify the eviction for those reasons,” said Eric Garrity, who volunteers with Street Kitchen Collective distributing food to camps, during public comment.  

Others argued evicting camps is contrary to advice given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“The decision to move these individuals from their home without a proper plan is cruel,” Kay Vincent, a member of Bend’s Human Rights and Equity Commission, commented during the work session. “The CDC guidelines clearly state that houseless camps should not be moved. Not only is it a public health concern but an individual concern as their providers will not know where they will go which will disrupt the care that they’re receiving.” 

The camp is the most diverse camp in the city, Vincent alleged, and their needs can’t be met by the newly opened Shepherd’s House shelter nearby on Second Street, which will not be housing people between 7am-6pm.  

“With this heat wave it creates another concern that these human beings will be forced to move in extreme conditions. Being outside right now is already uncomfortable. Imagine having to move every single item that you own on foot across town,” Vincent said.  

The Council set a goal of attracting 500 additional beds for houseless people, during its most recent goal setting, but at the time of the camp’s removal, Bend’s shelters don’t have the capacity to house them, nor do they have designated safe camping sites.  

"Until we are able to walk on to Emerson and say we’re closing Emerson, but we have these three locations that have been designated safe camping where you can go, what we will be doing, and it’s happening already, is we are pushing people back to China Hat, back to Hunnell, people are going right back into areas right by people’s residential neighborhoods,” said Stacey Witte, founder and director of the houseless nonprofit REACH. 

Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman said he’s received a lot of input requesting more aggressive action in camp removal. Creating a policy was necessary, he said, so that both housed and houseless populations can be aware of the removal process as the houseless population steadily grows in Bend. The rate has gone up by double digits for several years in a row, according to the Point In Time Homeless Count from the Homeless Leadership Coalition. 

“I don’t think it’s fair to staff, I don’t think it’s fair to campers, I don’t think it’s fair to the housed community to not have a policy about how we’re going to deal with this,” Broadman said during the meeting. “This is a dress rehearsal for problems we’re having in other areas of our community. You saw the 13% number of homelessness increase, that’s the same number as the year before.” 

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...

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