A fire at a Bend transient camp along the Deschutes River on Monday has prompted neighbors to voice concerns about their safety.
“The police and fire were lining the canyons here next to these homes behind me, looking over the edge because they were so concerned about having to repel down the rocks to try and put out these fires where these transient camps have basically kind of nudged themselves in these hidden areas where they can’t be contacted by law enforcement or city officials,” said Matt Shea, who lives in the area.
Some neighbors reported hearing several loud explosions before the fire.
Shea watched helplessly as smoke climbed into the air near his house on the cliffs below Sunshine Way in Southwest Bend.
“It doesn’t take much for the fires to grow with wind and the right conditions and a lot of the neighbors were down here as well extremely concerned and nervous, elderly people worried and I don’t think it’s fair that people have to put up with this,” said Shea.
Bend Fire & Rescue says some of the materials in the camp burned and the fire spread to only about 500 square feet.
Shea says neighbors have contacted the City of Bend and police about the camp recently.
Bend Police confirmed the calls but said none of the transients were contacted or trespassed as officers, along with HOA’s, try to determine property rights.
“We’re just hoping that the city or the county can listen to our needs and get it addressed,” Shea added.
The City of Bend recently announced it will reopen its winter warming shelter to serve as a year-round low-barrier shelter. It’s expected to open on June 1st.
“That fire is the perfect example of why we all need to be doing everything we can as a community to make sure that we house as many people as possible,” said Bend City Councilor Meghan Perkins.
The city is also looking at purchasing a motel to serve as a temporary homeless shelter.
Shea believes these shelters will only make things worse.
“When you are feeding them and taking care of them, then it escalates the problem and it’s never going to get better,” said Shea.
“The only way you can really get this resolved is you got to put pressure on them and you got to keep them moving,” he added. “Either offer them jobs where they can live life and sustain their own lifestyle by working and contributing to society.”
“When you have managed camps, when you have low-barrier shelters and you have wraparound services and supportive services, things like fires, violence, trash, that is not an issue because these facilities are being managed by community organizations, so things will get better if we have more shelters and camps that are managed rather than get worse,” said Perkins.
No one was injured or on the scene when the fire broke out and an investigation is ongoing.