▶️ Homeless village for women, families begins building in SE Bend

After two years of paperwork and approvals, a village for the unhoused — managed by Central Oregon Villages (COV) — is beginning construction behind Desert Streams Church in Southeast Bend.

Soon, 20 shelters for the homeless will sit behind the church in the vicinity of SE 27th Street and Bear Creek Road. COV expects the village to start housing people by the end of the month.

According to COV Executive Director Nicky Merritt, this will be transitional housing prioritizing women and families.

“We got permits in March,” Merritt said. “We’re about to do all the ground work, get electricity in here, and this is kind of our final step: getting these shelters put together.”

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The shelter structures themselves have walls and ceilings that can be picked up by groups of volunteers and screwed into place. 

Amenities will also be included for those who stay in the village.

“We have been donated a shower bathroom trailer,” Merritt said. “Forge school is building us a kitchen trailer which folks will be able to prepare their meals in.”

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The space will have two different shelter sizes. The majority will be 64 square feet and a few will be 100 square feet. The larger ones will be set aside for families. 

People living in the shelter will be referred to as ‘participants,’ not ‘residents,’ in order to avoid tenant/landlord vocabulary, Merritt explained. 

Some participants have already been selected.

“We let service providers in the area know we were looking for women over the age of 50 that were clean and sober and able to pass a background check,” Merritt said.

Three women who match this description have been chosen. 

“After that, we open it up to women that have experienced domestic violence, so we have one younger woman coming in,” Merritt said. 

A family of five, currently living in their car, are also being given the opportunity to stay in one of these shelters. 

We spoke with a volunteer with Heart of Oregon Youth Build, Branden Kunkel, who was helping out with the build. He was born and raised in Bend. 

“It is of significance for me because I live here,” Kunkel said. “I really like seeing the community grow as more and more people move here, but with higher population obviously comes more problems, homelessness being one of them.”

He finds purpose in volunteering for projects like this.

“I just think that serving the overall community by keeping it clean, giving people somewhere to stay and just all around providing humanitarian aid,” Kunkel said. 

▶️ 15th and Wilson roundabout is opening, but more Wilson construction soon

After about three months of construction, the 15th Street and Wilson Avenue intersection in Bend is now a completed roundabout. It replaces the intersection where making left turns off Wilson were often a dangerous struggle.

Southeast Bendites told us they are happy the project is done. Lani Gibson, who relies on the bus, said she has not been able to use it since the construction began.

“It’ll be such a change to get our bus stop back,” Gibson said. “It’ll be a big change in our life and financially, it’ll help both of us very much.”

Now that the construction is over, Gibson will have her bus back.

“It has caused some hardships, but I guess everything is going to be pretty good after today,” Joe Nelson, another Southeast Bend resident said. 

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However, more construction for Wilson Avenue is on the way. The westbound lane on Wilson between 4th and 9th Street will be closed starting Monday or Tuesday.

“You’ll have to go down to Reed Market and take it over to 3rd Street there,” Senior Project Engineer for the City of Bend Sinclair Burr said. “We’re putting in bike lanes, sidewalks, a new waterline and a lot of new storm infrastructure.”

Just a few blocks east, Pettigrew Road will also close beginning Monday. 

“There’s a lot of sewer work,” Burr said. “They are trying to get people from there septic systems over to our sewer system and then that closure will extend through the fall.”

Nelson summed up how he felt about the road construction with: “Just go ahead and get it done.”

▶️ Construction begins on Redmond’s first low-barrier homeless shelter

Redmond’s homeless population will soon have a low-barrier, year-round shelter as Shepherd’s House Ministries expands its services.

“We’re taking a really big step forward by establishing a facility in Redmond. Not only where we can offer shelter and meals and showers, but where we’ll welcome other service providers into the building to meet with our clients and help them take those next steps forward,” Redmond City Director for Shepherd’s House Andrew Hoeksema said. 

This space will be the first low-barrier option in Redmond.

“We operate as a low-barrier provider which means we try to minimize the rules or burdens we place on people and really just be a safe connecting place for them,” Hoeksema said. 

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Minimizing the rules does not mean there aren’t any. Unhoused individuals will not be allowed to bring in drugs, alcohol or weapons. 

The shelter will have 44 beds with distinct men’s and women’s facilities. Families experiencing homelessness will also have the option of staying in one of three separate rooms.

Meals, showers and additional resources will be offered during the day. Hoeksema said the goal is to work with other service providers to offer as much help as possible to those who want it. 

Central Oregon Daily went to NE 17th Street in Redmond, where a sizable homeless population has settled. Out of the three people we spoke with, none of them said they would be interested in living in a shelter. 

After asking one of them, Joe, why he would not want this option, he said, “Well because of my dog and my RV. Everything I own is in there.”

He has lived on 17th for two years. 

“Pretty much don’t have no rules out here,” he said. “They just do what they want.”

While he prefers to stay on the streets, he said others might be intrigued by the new option. 

“I wouldn’t, but there might be some people that do,” he said. 

Initially, the shelter will only be open as an overnight shelter, with plans to expand to 24-hour operations.

▶️ Alyssa’s Law among bipartisan Oregon bills held up by GOP senate boycott

Monday marked the sixth day of a boycott by Republican members of the Oregon senate, preventing the chamber from doing business.

Bills on abortion, gender-affirming care and gun control that Republicans oppose are at the forefront of this effort, but there are also bills that have both Democratic and Republican support that are on hold.

Some of those include:

  • HB 3101 – Alyssa’s Law, which would require panic buttons in every school classroom that can send an immediate alert to law enforcement when there is perceived safety threat within the school building
  • HB 2395 – increases the availability of Narcan and Naloxone, overdose reversing treatment
  • HB 2147 – ensures unclaimed remains of veterans or survivors of veterans have honorable burial
  • HB 2295 – broadens public contracting preference for veteran-owned businesses
  • HB 2522 – addresses wildfire prevention by establishing Rural Structural Fire Protection Review Committee

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Republicans are basing their boycott on a 44-year-old state law that requires bill summaries to be written at the reading level of an eighth- or ninth-grader.

Since Republicans are intentionally skipping sessions, the senate is not meeting the quorum requirement of 20 present senators. That means they cannot vote on legislation. Currently, 17 senators are Democrats, 12 are Republicans and one is an independent.

“If that’s the situation and they are still doing walkouts and don’t have the quorum then nothing gets voted on,” OSU Cascades instructor and former Oregon legislator Judy Stiegler said Monday.

If Republican senators deny a quorum for the rest of the legislative session, which doesn’t end until late June, then a lot of bills could theoretically die.

“There are a lot of other bipartisan pieces of legislation that aren’t going to go anywhere, unless this gets stopped,” Stiegler said.

For now, neither side will budge.

Republicans have staged walkouts before. This year, legislators with 10 unexcused absences are disqualified for reelection thanks to a new constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. As of Monday, some Republican senators were at six unexcused absences.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, has suggested Republicans may challenge the ten absences law.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

▶️ OSU-Cascades receives millions to expand Central Oregon school counseling

Oregon State University-Cascades is working to get graduating counselors into local school districts thanks to a $3.9 million grant. That money, to be distributed over five years, will expand the school counselor masters degree program.

“We would do so well if we were able to access more counselors,” Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools Jay Mathisen said.

The U.S. Department of Education is sending the grant to help students pay for their classes. OSU-Cascades is one of 250 universities to receive a grant like this in the country, according to Assistant Professor in the counselor program, Lucy Purgason. 

“Most of that funding goes directly to support student tuition, and, based on eligibility, a training stipend for students when they complete an internship,” Purgason said. 

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RELATED: Oregon schools below recommended counselor-to-student ratio

Qualifiers for receiving some of the grant money are “Being committed to working in a high-need school in one of our four partnership districts,” according to Purgason.

These include Redmond, Bend La Pine, Crook County and Jefferson County School Districts. 

“Something we’ll be looking for are individuals currently living or from these districts,” Purgason said.

Mathisen told us sourcing from local communities will help counselors connect with students. 

“For us, in Jefferson County, that means that we might be able to hire in years to come some counselors that are more linguistically diverse and better reflect our diverse community,” Mathisen said. 

Bend-La Pine Schools explained it has been tough to fill school counselor positions. 

“It’s a specialized credential, it’s more training, more education and they cost a lot,” Director of Social, Emotional and Mental Wellbeing for Bend La Pine School District, Jennifer Hauth said. 

Hauth added that staff members are already interested in the OSU Cascades program with the new grant money.

The deadline to apply to the program has been extended to May 25 due to the grant. 

▶️ Deschutes County crisis team to respond to calls without police

The Community Crisis Response Team with Deschutes County Behavioral Health is no longer responding to some 911 calls with law enforcement. Their initial response can now just be a therapist and a case manager.

“I think being able to respond to the community without law enforcement will make a big difference,” Case Manager Krista Brown with the crisis response team said. “Law enforcement can kind of exacerbate the client’s presentation. So being able to come in with therapists I think is a big deal.”

Brown made it clear that the team will still be working closely with law enforcement, but the two will respond separately to calls if a police presence is not initially necessary. These types of calls include low-risk, mental health related issues. The team predicts they will take around 3-5% of 911 calls in the next year.

Serving as a 911 dispatcher in East Texas for six years, Brown told us she feels calm in chaotic situations.

“Just with the types of clients we have, I’m already used to talking to people that are on the worst day of their life, in the worst situation imaginable,” Brown said.

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Program Manager Adam Goggins with Deschutes County Behavioral Health explained crisis team members will be completely unarmed.

“We’re going to have to keep an eye out for ourselves and radio for backup if we need to,” Goggins said. “Those are changes that we’re implementing.” 

Crisis responders will be unarmed except for the tools in their belts.

“Distance, time and verbal skills,” according to Goggins.

Brown said police are already thankful for the help.

“We get that all the time, ‘Thank you for taking this person because we don’t know what else to do with them,'” Brown said.

Community members will still have to call 911 for crisis situations, but the call will likely be given to the crisis response team going forward.

 

▶️ Response team in training happened to be at Smith Rock when boy fell 40 feet

The right place at the right time.

After 11-year-old Cohen Schaumann fell 40 feet at Smith Rock State Park one week ago, one of the first groups to rush to his rescue was a wilderness response team in training from Western Oregon University.

Joining them in the effort was Oregon State Police Sergeant Caleb Ratliff.

“I respond because I care. I have a 10-year-old, 16-year-old, 18-year-old. So when you hear a kid’s hurt, you get that little feeling in your stomach like ‘I gotta go,'” Ratliff said.

Ratliff responded after the Western Oregon team had already started performing assessments. 

“He was responsive to pain and he was in and out of responsiveness to questions and things like that. He had labored breathing,” Ratliff said. “He was belly breathing and had retractions so that indicated there was something wrong with his breathing.”

RELATED: 11-year-old facing long recovery after 40-foot fall at Smith Rock

The students and staff member from WOU were at Smith Rock a day earlier than they needed to be. Assistant Director of Campus Recreation Zachary Hammerle told us his group was there to obtain lead climbing certifications. They thought it was a good idea to warm up the day before in Rope-de-Dope area of the park — the same day Schauman fell. 

“I was belaying one of the students and during that time they heard a scream. Our students immediately jumped into action and asked ‘where’s the medical pack?'” Hammerle said. 

Cohen had visible injuries (broken pelvis, wrist, ankle and ribs, according to his GoFundMe), but Hammerle  and his students were more concerned about his interior health.

His GoFundMe also said Cohen sustained collapsed lungs, lacerated liver and kidney.

“Our immediate concern is spinal issues, internal bleeding, any kind of airway restrictions,” Hammerle said. 

That’s when Ratliff stepped in, oxygen tank in hand.

“Providing oxygen is key so he does end up de-compensating,” Ratliff said. “Children also tend to de-compensate pretty fast. So they will look like they are doing well, and then they crash.”

Hammerle said when Ratliff arrived to the scene, he immediately started directing the people surrounding Cohen and asked them to assist in carrying the boy out of the park.

According to Ratliff, who has EMT training in his back pocket, the students and Hammerle did everything right.

Because they already assessed Cohen and put his leg in a splint, Ratliff was able to act quickly and get the 11-year-old to air support to be transported to Portland. 

Brandon Schauman, Cohen’s father, said in a statement, “[The trooper’s] effort, along with so many other responders, is the reason I am able to hear my son’s voice, see his smile and hold his hand.”

The statement included a quote from Cohen himself: “Thank you for saving my life.”

Both Ratliff and Hammerle are happy to have helped. 

“That’s pretty flattering,” said Ratliff. “I really appreciate that. I think most of the credit really needs to go to the people that showed up, though, and responded to his initial fall, to that wilderness first responder.”

The GoFundMe for Cohen’s medical bills has raised more than $51,000 as of Friday.

▶️ A ‘critical tool’: Central Oregon prescribed burn season is here

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If you see smoke columns rising from the forest in the next few months, it’s likely a prescribed burn being conducted by the Deschutes National Forest.

Sisters Ranger District firefighters were out on Thursday igniting around 90 acres 3 miles south east of Sisters on National Forest System lands.

“Prescribed fire is a critical tool that we use to reduce the risk of wildfire to our communities and to our landscape,” Deschutes National Forest Public Affairs Specialist Jaimie Olle said. 

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Sisters Ranger District firefighters are conducting these burns with support from Central Oregon TREX Prescribed Fire Training participants.

“We use that as a tool to get rid of the ladder fuels that should a wildfire start in an area like this during the heat of summer, our firefighters have a much better chance of success of being able to catch that fire and keep our community safe,” Olle said. 

Ladder fuels consist of ground vegetation, debris and low hanging branches that could help a fire spread.

As for the burn’s impact on air quality, the Oregon Department of Forestry Smoke Forecasters approve each burn as long as the conditions are right.

“They’re taking into consideration everything from wind, weather and whether there’s a potential for that smoke to lift up and hopefully away from communities,” Olle said. “So every single day, we’re sending them our measurements of things that we’re seeing on the ground, and they’re determining whether it’s a good day to burn.”

The right conditions for a prescribed burn depend on the dryness of the area. 

“Enough moisture in the fuels so the vegetation, again those ladder fuels, that carry fire up into the crown, and they want those fuels to be receptive enough to fire so that we decrease them, but keep it wet enough that we’re not creating that high intensity wildfire atmosphere,” Olle said. 

Due to the “healthy” snowpack this year, fire season is expected to kick it up a notch around July. 

You can get the latest Central Oregon fire information here.

▶️’I’m so proud’: 2 kids, a parent and a rock save driver in distress at school

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Vern Patrick Elementary School in Redmond can call two students and a parent heroes. All three of them took action when an 80-year-old Redmond woman experienced a medical emergency while driving Tuesday morning. 

The woman, who has not been identified, almost hit second grader Noelani Cunningham and her brother, Carson Cunningham, on their walk to school. 

“It looked like she was still alive, but then she didn’t move at all,” Noelani said. “When we thought she was still alive, her head went bobbling.”

After Carson warned his sister about the oncoming vehicle, the two children raised the alarm and told the first adult they saw, crossing guard Tammy Salka. 

“Then we told the cross guard to make sure we could get someone who we know had a phone who could call the police or the ambulance,” Noelani said. 

Their mother, Natasha Cunningham, could not be more proud. 

“I work in health care so we’ve definitely stopped on the side of the road a couple of times to help someone before. And the fact that they knew how to do it alone without an adult to prompt them is just amazing to me,” Natasha said. “It’s definitely reassuring that I’m doing something right. I’m going to cry. I’m so proud of them.”

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Salka, realizing something was wrong, alerted nearby parent Nathan Veltrie, who jumped into action.

“Miss Salka yelled at me,” Veltrie said. “The neighbor threw a rock over the fence, a big huge rock.”

With that rock, he broke the back window of the car and go the woman out of the car. 

“Her vein on her neck stopped pulsing, and I just kind of lost my mind at that point,” said Veltrie. 

He started CPR until a medical professional stopped to assist. She told Veltrie she could take over, and he said he was “relieved.”

All of this, thanks to the kids seeing something and saying something. 

We got news of the woman’s condition right before the interview. The school told us her niece reached out and said the woman is still in the hospital and is recovering from a few broken bones, possibly from CPR.

“I’m just glad she’s alright,” Veltrie said.

Someone at the school took the rock Veltrie used to smash the window and painted it gold — the school color — to thank him from his heroic actions. 

▶️ ‘Patients are friends’: Sunriver’s only clinician set to retire after 40 yrs

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After 40 years of serving the Sunriver community, Dr. Daniel Skotte with High Desert Family Medicine is retiring. But the clinic itself — the only one in Sunriver — will continue to operate.

High Desert Family Medicine will be taken over by Summit Medical Group. That means Dr. Skotte can finally have some R-and-R after four decades. 

“Patients are friends in this practice, so it’s very difficult to leave,” Skotte said.

The age range of his patients ranged at 1.5-to-105 years old. His oldest patient has since passed.

“We do pediatrics, we do geriatrics and everything in between,” Skotte said. “We do women’s health care, so it’s been a fun journey.”

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A fun journey with a lot of the more common Sunriver injuries like “people with fish hooks in their ears and getting hit by golf balls and a lot of bike accidents,” according to Skotte.

One extreme case Skotte recalled was a hunting accident.

“A duck hunter on the other side of the Deschutes inadvertently shot himself point blank range with a shot gun in his thigh, and he came here because there was nowhere else to go,” Skotte said. The man survived.

After starting work as a doctor in Sunriver, Skotte took on the role of a flight surgeon for the U.S. Air Force, saying the positions were complimentary.

“I think they both helped each other because here we see everything,” Skotte said. “I mean people walk in with all kinds of lacerations and fractures and it’s the same thing you see when you’re deployed in the military.”

Now he’s off to retirement, thankful for the Sunriver community. 

“It has been an unbelievable pleasure. It’s been amazing to have your trust,” Skotte said.

Summit Health will expand open hours at the clinic during the weekend and will continue to accept same-day walk-in appointments and schedules primary care visits. 

The clinic is expected to be open and in operation by Summit Health by June.