Rena has been homeless in Bend for more than six years. In that time, she frequently has had to move camping spots due to camp sweeps by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“You got to watch them throw your stuff away,” Rena, who did not give her last name, said outside her tent. “I literally watched a backhoe pick up my home that I lived in for almost nine months.”
She said having to move is always a difficult and traumatic experience. In one week, she’ll have to do it again.
The city of Bend is planning a third sweep in two years of a homeless camping site on Oct. 25, this time on 2nd Street, where dozens have pitched tents as a means of finding shelter. City officials say the campsite, which is estimated to have around 11 tents, is a public safety hazard and needs to be removed.
In a city memo dated Oct. 10, City Manager Eric King wrote that Bend’s efforts to manage the site failed to quell health and safety concerns.
“The totality of circumstances … has created a threat to public health, safety, and the environment,” King wrote in his memo outlining the sweep decision.
In a report discussing conditions at the camp, Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz noted the high number of calls for service, garbage and perceived criminal behavior.
Krantz wrote in his report that police conducted an assessment of the campsite Sept. 22, during which officers found a large accumulation of garbage. He also noted 121 calls for police to the area the previous month.
Police arrested nine people at the camp the past month, with various charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct, warrants and criminal mischief, Krantz wrote.
Rena, the camp resident, said the city provides them with trash bags, which are then picked up by a contractor on a weekly basis. She said any clutter at the camp is because residents have nowhere to store their belongings.
All this comes while the City Council is still drafting a camping code that will determine when, where and how people are allowed to camp inside city limits.
Bend spokesperson Anne Aurand said the timing of the sweep is not connected to the code change, but that city staff could not wait for the council to enact it.
“We don’t know exactly when the City Council is going to wrap up the development of that code, that could be weeks,” Aurand said by phone. “I just think this particular campsite is currently something that we want to deal with.”
The city did not announce the sweep publicly, but sent an email notifying service providers Oct. 10 and posted notices around the camp two days later. One of those notices was zip-tied to Rena’s tent Monday.
She said she doesn’t know where she’ll go yet — having a dog and struggling with mental health needs has put many options out of reach.
Availability of resources for those experiencing homelessness remains. Councilor Megan Perkins said the council has worked to open more shelter space, but that much of that is still under construction.
David Notari, director of development for Shepherd’s House Ministries, a low-barrier shelter in Bend, said the closing of the camp will likely result in more people seeking services, and that Shepherd’s House will stretch beyond its 100-bed capacity if needed.
It’s the third time recently the city has removed a campsite for those experiencing homelessness. In 2021, a sweep on Emerson Avenue resulted in Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel criticizing the city for its sweep after police arrested a man who broke police lines to use a portable restroom.
Several people on 2nd Street said they used to live on Emerson before the city closed the camp and now face another removal.
The City Council said in January that it would aim to stop sweeping camps and instead open up to 500 new shelter beds. But many of those spaces, Perkins said, are still under construction.
“Even though we’ve done as much as we could do the last couple of years, we still haven’t been able to get to the point where all of our community has somewhere where they feel safe,” Perkins said.
Perkins said she’s received multiple emails from homeowners and business owners in the area about alleged incidents with unhoused people in recent weeks.
As for what will happen to people removed from 2nd Street, it’s still unknown. Aurand said the city provides residents with information directing them to services, but that there’s no way to know where someone actually ends up.
King has previously said there aren’t enough services for the number of people experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon — around 1,300 adults and children, according to the 2022 point in time count.
Rena was more pessimistic about the city’s willingness to help people experiencing homelessness. She said she’s been unhoused on-and-off since she was 13, and that Bend is the most hostile toward unhoused people of any place she’s lived.
“I never thought being on this side could be that awful — the people here make it that way,” she said.