The Bend City Council is trying to tackle homelessness and camping on city property.
“This council has made a promise to folks experiencing homelessness, folks that are in the housed community, that we would be embarking upon this code process this summer.” said City Councilor Anthony Broadman Wednesday. “We are doing that, that is exactly what this is.’
Bend City Council and staff discussed unsanctioned camping codes Wednesday, with a goal to engage the community and develop regulations for camping on property owned or controlled by the City of Bend such as streets and sidewalks.
“My concern is the constant displacement of people around our city and I would hope that as this code is developed, we are addressing that in some way,” said Councilor Megan Perkins. “Not just where you can’t, but where you can.”
According to the city, there are around 800 people experiencing homelessness in the City of Bend, but both state and federal laws (Martin v. Boise, Blake v. Grants Pass, HB 3115) prohibit what cities can and cannot do when it comes to regulations.
“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,” City of Bend Associate City Attorney, Elizabeth Oshel.
Even if there are enough shelter beds available for the homeless to be legally displaced, the city would then need to break down what kind of shelter and if that person would have been able to use it at that time.
“What are all of your circumstances that qualify you or disqualify you from any particular shelter space available,” said Assistant City Attorney Ian Leitheiser. “That is, I am looking over at Chief Krantz, that requires a lot of work to do that assessment.”
There are a few things Council can do.
“We can regulate where, when and how people camp on public property,” said Mayor Gena Campbell-Goodman.
Council approved the making of a working group with the idea of adding a variety of members like former homeless, business owners, service providers and others to do help work on these camping code changes.
Councilors also authorized the city manager to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Deschutes County regarding a collaborative office intended to strengthen the community’s houseless response, funded by $1 million from the state.
You can read Councilor Megan Perkin’s houseless update here:
For tonight’s houselessness update, I want to recap what Council learned about during our work session: creating a municipal code to limit unsanctioned camping in Bend.
Unsanctioned camping is the type of camping we hear a lot of concerns about; unmanaged campsites popping up along City streets and sidewalks.
We learned tonight that there are at least 785 unhoused individuals in Bend and only around 280 shelter beds. This statistic becomes real for many of us when we see our unhoused community members camping in public places all over town. While we continue to increase the number of shelter beds available in Bend, we can start thinking about how we want to regulate camping in public places for the safety of the people who are camping as well as others using public spaces.
While we have 785 unhoused individuals in Bend, it is also important to note that this is a regional crisis with regional repercussions. When we remove a camp on City rights-of-way, some of those campers may move to other public lands in the area. We will continue to see camping on City rights-of-way as other jurisdictions such as ODOT and the Forest Service also regulate and manage their own lands. For example, all campers on China Hat Road recently received notices to vacate, and these types of actions will inevitably move people without houses to new places to camp in the region.
The Bend Municipal Code currently does not ban camping on public property or rights-of-way. We’ve opened shelters on property owned by the City, and updated our Development Code to hopefully see other property owners develop and open shelters. And now, we will start discussing how to regulate camping on public rights-of-way and other public property in Bend.
In today’s work session, we began the process of developing a camping code by learning that there are limits to what we can regulate, but we do have options for how, when and where camping can be regulated. We have to comply with state and federal laws when we develop a camping code. In some cities, camping codes only deal with camping in public. In other cities, they also address camping in vehicles parked on the street. There is a lot to consider as we develop a camping code that makes sense for Bend.
We gave input on process and the kind of public education and engagement process we’d like to see for this project. Staff will come back to us at a future meeting with recommendations for public engagement. Once we give feedback on a proposal, potentially later this summer, we can get to work developing a camping code that is compassionate and reflects our values.
If you would like to listen to the work session we just completed, you can watch it on the Council agenda page.
As we start working on a camping code we also need to think about how we keep our current shelters, safe parking sites and other facilities that support unhoused community members in Bend safe. We’ve heard from shelter operators and nearby businesses that they are starting to see unhoused community members congregating around these areas when the shelters are closed, and by people who are not engaged in the services the shelter provides. This activity can negatively impact the operations of the shelter sites, and may increase as other places people have been camping are closed. I would like to encourage my fellow Councilors to think of how we might limit camping or congregating around shelters so that we can provide shelter operators the best opportunity for running safe, effective shelter sites, between now and when we consider permanent regulations about camping in the right-of-way. I’m hoping that is something we can address later in our meeting.
This is not easy. We need to come together with our regional partners, our local businesses, and our community to identify safe places for people to go. Our solution can’t just be to tell people where they can’t go but also where they can go. If we don’t continue to work on that piece of this puzzle we won’t be able to make any lasting impact for our houseless and our community at large will not see any decrease in unsanctioned camping. I urge all of our Central Oregon region to help find solutions and security for the houseless not just regulation and punishment.