The City of Bend and Deschutes County will explore creating a joint homelessness office with the goal of aligning resources to tackle an issue both agencies agree is at crisis level.
“What we have right now is not working – it’s not working for anyone,” Bend City Councilor Megan Perkins said during an afternoon joint meeting with Deschutes County Commissioners. “I see this office making us be better at our jobs. They will be providing guidance and streamlining the work we’re trying to do.”
Nothing was finalized, but the two agencies agreed to move forward with the idea and let staff come up with a strategic plan and funding needs.
“We have an opportunity to stop passing the buck.”
– Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman
State funding could be available if the two agencies agree to work together to work on the problem.
“We’ve learned from other communities that, to achieve better solutions around homelessness we can’t just throw money at this, but we need to be strategic and working together with partners on all sides,” Mayor Sally Russell said after the meeting. “That’s why both the city and county need to be working together.”
The city and county created an Emergency Homelessness Task Force in October last year to start a collaborative conversation with social service providers about possible solutions to the issue.
Commissioner Phil Chang said the task force will help a new joint office narrow its focus.
“It will indicate some of the needs and initiatives we need to work on,” he said.
Joint Office Core Functions
- Supporting Partnerships
- Leading Systems Improvements
- Developing Strategy
- Coordinating Funding
Bend City Councilor Rita Schenkelberg said elected leaders would be able to navigate some of the red tape involved in the process and the proposed office would help social services focus their energy on their areas of expertise.
The city deals mainly with land use and housing while the county works with public health and mental health services.
“As elected leaders, we can remove the barriers of land use and all these other pieces that make it so difficult for the services providers,” she said.
Councilors and commissioners spent time talking about the current homeless situation in the area, including Hunnell Road, where more than 100 people are living in RVs and tents.
Additional homeless camps on Revere Avenue and Colorado Avenue recently were cleared out, sending dozens of residents to other parts of the city.
A year-round warming shelter and new motel-turned-homeless shelter will ease some of the problem, but other solutions are needed, the two agencies said.
The city is considering managed homeless camps and is looking at additional motels that could transition into shelters.
It’s also considering development code changes to allow shelters in more locations throughout the city.
The agencies took no action on those plans Thursday.
Watch the meeting here: https://vimeo.com/event/1115398
“This is the most pressure we might feel in a generation,” Commissioner Tony DeBone said. “But we’ve got to take (the joint office discussion) farther. This is a great conversation. Let’s see what it will look like.”
And while some might be tired of hearing government agencies talk about fixing the homeless issue, Councilor Barb Campbell said there’s a reason it’s taken so long for solutions to pan out.
“I think that in order to build and get trust in the community they need to know we understand what the problem is. We know they’re not all mentally ill, they’re not all addicts, they’re not all folks who have fallen on hard times,” she said. “That’s what’s taking so long – the solution is complicated. Different people have different needs and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here. Identify what the needs are and who might be successful.”
Councilor Anthony Broadman said the joint office would signal to the community that its current elected leaders are ready to help get people off the streets.
“We have an opportunity to stop passing the buck,” Broadman said. “We might not agree on all the solutions but we can agree this requires a partnership.”Emergency Homelessness Task Force