BY ANYSSA BOHANAN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
The Homeless Leadership Coalition counted nearly 900 homeless individuals across Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook Counties last January during their Point In Time Count.
James Cook, co-chair of the organization, says that that number is likely much higher.
“We know from the experience and research that others have done that that number could be as much as one-half of our total homeless population, or even one-fifth or less,” Cook said.
With those numbers continuing to increase, Cook and other organizations are concerned about where homeless individuals will go when winter strikes.
In previous years shelters like Bethlehem Inn, Sagewood Sanctuary and Shepherd’s House were able to provide additional accommodation to those in need.
But due to a number of operational, safety and capacity concerns, they’re no longer able to provide shelter to those who aren’t already housed there.
“Shepherd’s House can take in between 10 and 20, they’ve done more in the past and it disturbs their regular programs so they’ve decided they have to limit themselves to that this year,” he said. “Bethlehem Inn can take in a few people if they have open beds and they don’t have very many open beds.”
With the shelters unable to take in extra individuals, Bend now has no warming shelter for the homeless, and the Homeless Leadership Coalition has been left searching for an available space.
“We’re confident that we can staff it and run it according to best practices if we can find a location but we’ve just been unable to find a location,” Cook said.
Said Larry Medina, Bend Fire Marshal: “What’s happening out there is the competition between vacant buildings and being able to use those facilities or to accommodate a business.”
The City of Bend has stepped in and started working with the organizations to advocate for additional overnight shelter before the weather takes a turn.
“The city does not own or operate any of our own housing. Without a doubt it’s heartbreaking to know that our residents don’t have a safe place to sleep,” said Lynne McConnell, the affordable housing manager for the City of Bend. “The city is willing to partner and eager to partner however we can.”
With winter just around the corner, the need for a warming shelter in the city is becoming more urgent.
“It’s already been below freezing. So, you know, living outside during our summers is one thing but our winters expecially if we get snow, it becomes life threatening for people,” Cook said.
The public is invited to a meeting with City of Bend officials and the Homeless Leadership Coalition at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at the Deschutes County Behavioral Health facility on Courtney Drive.
Cook said they hope to have a shelter up and running by November 15th.