Hunnell Road will not be closing on March 16 as initially planned, Bend City Manager Eric King announced at Wednesday’s city council meeting. Instead, the city now says it will wait until the new managed homeless camp proposed for the south end of Bend is complete and ready for use.
“We will continue to support our county partners and nonprofits in providing resources to serve the needs of the people living around Hunnell and other managed camps across the region,” King said.
The Hunnell Road closure was to make way for the Bend North Corridor Project, which will shift part of Highway 97 to the east. A “change in plans by the Deschutes County Road Department” was also cited as reason to delay the closure.
After King made the announcement, it was the public’s turn to speak about the proposed camp — located just south of the Les Schwab Tire Center along Highway 97 — which got the go-ahead from Deschutes County on Monday.
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“We need to feel in southeast Bend like you hear the citizens who voted you into office,” said one commenter.
“This is really not just about the location,” said another. “It is your ill-begotten plan on how to manage the situation.”
“If you don’t screen, you don’t get their background,” said a commenter. “You are doing nothing but contributing to the continuation of the problem.”
Mayor Melanie Kebler wanted to make sure the public knew the city is not just relocating campers on Hunnell Road to the new south site.
“This would not be a place where we pick up what’s happening, that’s unmanaged and unsupervised right now and just put it in another place,” said Kebler. “That’s not the intent.”
She says the site will focus on the most vulnerable people.
“The intent is to move forward with this as a place for medically fragile people to be,” she said. “So folks who have things like a cancer diagnosis, amputees, people that need medical equipment that’s large and can’t really be moved.”
You can watch King and Kebler’s comments here:
The council also approved a $405,000 grant to provide behavioral health services at Lighthouse Navigation Center. The money will be used to fund a full-time behavioral health specialist for three years. It gives people experiencing mental health issues at the shelter access to screenings and other services.”
You can read the city’s full press release here:
Statement from City Manager Eric King
Because of a change in plans by the Deschutes County Road Department and a commitment made Monday by the Deschutes County Commissioners to establish a site for people to go, the City made the decision today to postpone the planned complete removal of camps in the Hunnell Road area.
Late last year, the City assessed the area and determined that circumstances around the north Hunnell and Clausen area created a threat to public safety and the environment. Since last December, the City has said that we could close and clear the north Hunnell Road area on March 16 – a couple of weeks from right now.
The March 16 timing had been chosen for a variety of reasons:
- We wanted to avoid disrupting people during the coldest winter months.
- The Coordinated Houseless Response Office had proposed a surge of services and support to help people living there find resources and other places to go, and we wanted to give them time to accomplish that. The closure date of March 16 was discussed with the Coordinated Houseless Response Office in December 2022.
- The Deschutes County Road Department (in February of 2022) had warned the City that increased traffic in the area related to County and ODOT road construction projects this spring would “significantly add to the safety concerns for the people utilizing the encampment area.”
However, the Deschutes County Road Department on Monday said in a Deschutes County Commission meeting that the camp removal is not necessary for the road construction.
Also on Monday, responding to an offer from the City, Deschutes County Commissioners approved establishing a Safe Parking camping area on City-owned land on South Highway 97.
The City and County will develop an agreement on how this land can be managed, and the County will contract with a service provider to manage the site. This work will also include outreach and communication with nearby businesses and residents. We understand this work will take some time and the site will not be ready in two weeks, when the closure was planned.
The City will postpone the complete closure of the Hunnell area to camping until that South Highway 97 site is ready and a service provider is established. We will continue to support our County partners and nonprofits in providing resources to serve the needs of people living around Hunnell Road and in other unmanaged camps across the region.
At the County Commissioners’ meeting Monday, the concept of Safe Parking programs was discussed. We anticipate that the Coordinated Houseless Response Office will apply for a Safe Parking program use for that site. The Safe Parking program requires sites to have supervision and sanitation plans.
The Safe Parking Program is one of many tools the City has used to increase the availability of places people can go. We have successfully moved people into more permanent housing situations through the program and any neighbor concerns that arose have been resolved.
Over the last couple of years, the City has updated codes to allow private or non-profit entities to provide temporary and permanent shelters in Bend and places for people to park safely overnight.
The City Council established a goal of creating 500 shelter beds over the past two years and has nearly met that goal with the purchase of three properties that provide emergency shelter, the creation of the Safe Parking program, and the in-progress development of an outdoor shelter. The City has provided funding for several non profit organizations to build or increase shelter capacity.
Related but separate, the City’s new camping code goes into effect starting today. The camping code clarifies where and how it is legal to camp on City rights-of-way.
The City will still implement the camping code City-wide starting this month, but due to the unique circumstances at Hunnell Road, we’re not using it for a blanket closure of Hunnell Road. We will, however, rely on the code’s regulations pertaining to camping “manner” to create a cleaner and safer environment there.
We understand there are a multitude of solutions needed to ultimately find housing solutions for everyone who needs help and we will continue to work with the County and service providers to increase safe places for people to live.