A sign still sits in the window, stating the shelter's intention to add beds - which wouldn't require any construction or expansion of the building.At a July 1 meeting of the Bend City Council, councilors, once again, were faced with the issue of expanding the number of beds at the Shepherd's House, a shelter and resource center for homeless men. They were asked if they'd like to hear an appeal on the subject that was filed by a collection of neighbors, business owners and spearheaded by a former Bend mayor, and quite predictably, the council, on advice of city staff, voted not to hear the appeal.
But this isn't the end - just this week, the city's decision was appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) for the third time, and the fight over adding 28 beds to the shelter (without any construction on the building) will continue, just as it's been doing for two and a half years. On one side is a shelter looking to give more men a roof over their heads and a chance to participate in an intensely organized program. The opposition is an array of individuals and organizations with varying opinions of the Shepherd's House united by a belief that more beds at the shelter will hurt the makeup of their community. At times, the dispute has gotten nasty and seemingly personal, creating a climate where productive dialogue seems impossible. But now, even with the decision still up in the air and another appeal to LUBA already filed, there might be a chance for progress in a dispute that for a while looked like it had no end in sight.
A little background - The Shepherd's House came into its current location in 2006 and soon after sought to expand from 32 beds to 60 beds to accommodate more men into its programs, right around the time that the local economy was tanking and the number of local homeless men, women and children began to rise rapidly. Next door to the Shepherd's House is the Whistle Stop Business Center, a collection of offices and a Thai restaurant. Allan Bruckner, who served on the city council, including a stint as mayor in 1992, owns the Whistle Stop, named for its proximity to the nearby railroad tracks. Bruckner has been the force behind a series of appeals to the city and the state in order to stop the addition of beds, charging that the shelter isn't compatible with existing development - a standard that is required under the shelter's conditional use permit from the city. This week's appeal to LUBA is the third of its kind, including one appeal that effectively overturned the city's initial approval of the project, forcing the Shepherd's House to return to 32 beds after they had already expanded to 60.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, lunch has just concluded at the Shepherd's House and executive director Lynda Johnson is sitting with a pair of representatives from Bend's two Albertsons grocery stores. Johnson's office is adorned with Bible verses and other Christian iconography - the shelter is a non-denominational Christian operation, although religious studies or ministry are not a requirement of the shelter's programs - and her phone rings steadily during an hour-and-a-half conversation. At one point, a gentleman arrives with a pitcher of water and glasses, offering us a drink. This is one of the Shepherd's House residents and he doesn't look like a homeless guy, which is something Johnson points out about the men she often refers to as "our guys."
"If they look like homeless guys, they're not our guys," she says in reference to a recent comment she received from someone who claimed that a group of disheveled men seen buying alcohol at a local store were Shepherd's House residents.
The shelter's inventory of food donations.One of the Albertsons representatives sitting across from Johnson is Steve Allison, the store director at the Albertsons in the Wagner Mall. He is at the shelter reinforcing his store's support for the Shepherd's House, and explaining why a complaint from him was included in the most recent appeal to the city. Allison had witnessed a Shepherd's House resident shoplift batteries from his store and made a complaint to the Wagner Mall Merchant Association (one of the appellants) about the incident, which was, as he says, included in the appeal without his consent. In an interview two days later, Bruckner called Albertsons' attempt to remove the statement a "P.R. move."
The Shepherd's House has an almost military-like approach to its mission. Every resident has detailed duties, as do the bevy of volunteers who flow in and out of the building to assist the mere five paid employees. Walking through the Shepherd's House is like visiting a summer camp, a school, a church, a store and an office building all at once. Everything is clean and, for the most part, everyone is occupied. The end of the brick building facing Division Street has been made into a chapel - rows of pews, a lectern, an organ - which leads into rows of tables where the residents and others in need sit to eat. The basement is occupied by shelves of clothing, linens, and an entire corner devoted to food storage for volunteer groups to choose from when cooking meals for the shelter (the Shepherd's House doesn't have a permit to cook on site and thus dinners are cooked off site and brought to the shelter).
"The need is not decreasing, it's getting more intense and people are thinking about that. There's not a lot of places doing what we do," says Johnson, a 17-year Central Oregon resident with a background that includes prison ministry.
The most recent survey of the area's homeless population found that there were more than 2,200 people living without a permanent residence in Central Oregon, most of them in Deschutes County. That's up from just over 1,700 homeless last year.
All men who occupy a bed at the Shepherd's House have undergone an extensive battery of applications and background tests and are involved in a long-term program to assimilate them back into the working world. While there is plenty of counseling going on at the shelter, all professional services like mental health are done by specialists, sometimes at different locations.
But the problems neighbors have had with the Shepherd's House have never been about the shelter itself or its programs. The issue is about what they say goes on outside the shelter. There have been allegations of homeless men setting up encampments, breaking into vacant buildings, shoplifting and other offenses. Bend police community liaison Steve Esselstyn says the department has no way of quantifying how many calls they've received regarding Shepherd's House residents, but did say that there's been a city-wide spike in transient calls in recent years.
There's a problem at the core of his debate: if a shelter can't be located on Division Street, where should it be located? The need for homeless services is as important as ever in our region, which is suffering from some of the worst unemployment rates to be found in the country. No one seems to be arguing about the need for such resources, but it seems that no one can quite pin down where a shelter should be located.
After more than two years of dealing with the appeals, Shepherd's House Executive Director Lynda Johnson is ready to sit down with the shelter's opponents.While some listed on the appeal feel that there is a place in the neighborhood for the Shepherd's House, Johnson says that feel she's gotten from Bruckner is much different.
"[Bruckner] just doesn't want to have us here, period," says Johnson, who goes on to say that there has been almost no direct dialogue between her and the former mayor during this lengthy bout of appeals. She says that Shepherd's House representatives have tried to approach Bruckner in the parking lot, only to have him get in his car and drive away.
Bruckner, while acknowledging the need for homeless resources in Bend, doesn't, in fact, want the Shepherd's House at its current location. "I think next to the sheriff's office would be ideal or somewhere their presence would be a small part of that immediate community," he says. Bruckner says that given the relatively few businesses immediately surrounding the Division Street location, the Shepherd's House has a larger impact than it would were it located in a more densely populated area.
"It could be put in a light industrial area, which is what most cities do, where there's no interaction with women workers, or restaurants and less interaction with businesses," says Bruckner.
At the city council meeting, current Mayor Kathie Eckman echoed, Bruckner's assertion.
"I would like to have seen it put in a different area, but it's also one of those situations where it doesn't matter where it goes, people aren't going to like it," Eckman said at the July 1 meeting, before voting, along with all but one of her fellow councilors, not to hear the appeal. (Councilor Oran Teater was the lone council member to endorse hearing Bruckner's appeal.)
One group listed on the most recent appeal falls into the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others and that's the Orchard District Neighborhood Association. ODNA President Cheryl Howard and her board, although included on Bruckner's appeal, don't share his philosophy.
"We've always thought that the Shepherd's House belongs here. Our concern is some of the impacts based on the complaints of the neighbors," says Howard.
One such complaint that Howard voiced, which was included in the appeal, was an instance of a man stashing his belongings on the porch of a currently vacant business near the shelter while he went inside to eat.
"Not too long later, there's an agent there to show the business and there's bags on the porch," Howard says.
There have been some who've labeled complaints like this as mere examples of not-in-my-backyard syndrome, but Howard repeatedly says that this isn't the case and that she and her association want to actively find a way to solve these perceived problems that doesn't include more appeals.
Just a few hours before we spoke, Bruckner had been meeting with city councilor Mark Capell, who also happens to be a member of the Orchard District Neighborhood Association, but doesn't sit on the board and says he didn't participate in any of the proceedings leading up to the appeal, as not to create a conflict of interest. Now, however, since the council passed on the appeal, Capell has become a mediator of sorts, wearing both city councilor and resident hats, working toward finding a way to bring these different groups to the table.
Bruckner is receptive to the idea, as is Johnson, but there is a lengthy and contentious back story to the relationship between the two neighbors. Clearly, Bruckner is dedicated to fighting the addition of beds at the Shepherd's House - the mounting legal fees he's invested into the fight make that quite apparent. On the other side, Johnson and her staff, volunteers and board members, are hardly ready to give up on a chance to extend their intensive program to more men looking to get their lives back on track.
Problems began almost immediately upon the arrival of the Shepherd's House on Division Street in 2006, which was followed by the request to add 28 beds - and thus the appeals began. According to both Johnson and Bruckner, at one point the Shepherd's House discussed purchasing the Whistle Stop complex from Bruckner-a deal that never materialized. Since then, there's been almost no direct communication between Bruckner and anyone at the Shepherd's House.
"I believe that it's a personal vendetta because he wanted us to buy the Whistle Stop. He said that if we buy the Whistle Stop, he would drop the appeal," says Johnson.
And Bruckner doesn't deny that charge, saying that he obviously wouldn't have a problem if he no longer owned the building, which he says he would still sell if he had a buyer.
The rift got even deeper in the past month when the most recent appeal included an affidavit from Napawan Srijunyanot, the owner of Angel Thai Cuisine. The affidavit states that Johnson and another Shepherd's House employee entered her business and asked Srijunyanot why her name was on the appeal and went on to say that there would be a boycott of the restaurant if she kept her name on the appeal.
Johnson acknowledges going over to talk with the restaurant owner and ask about why she was on the appeal, but never used the word "boycott." Bruckner, who says he spoke to Srijunyanot 15 minutes after Johnson visited the restaurant, insists that "boycott" was used three times. Srijunyanot, when reached for an interview, acknowledged that Johnson did mention the possibility of a boycott by Shepherd's House supporters.
"I feel that the way she came in and approached me, it was not appropriate at all, says Srijunyanot, who has not had many problems with Shepherd's House residents, other than a few complaints from customers about loitering.
As of late last week, it seemed a meeting between the two sides could soon take place, something that Capell says is necessary.
"My approach on this thing is that the area needs improvement and so what I'm trying to do is talk to both sides and say, 'Instead of fighting, why don't you try to make a list of things you're willing to improve on?" says Capell.
Johnson is eager to talk with her opponents, even after a few years of silence between the two sides.
"I would love nothing more than to say, 'Allan, what can we do?'"