Deschutes commissioner urges Bend officials to delay camp sweep

By Joni Auden Land (OPB)
Feb. 28, 2023 1 p.m. Updated: Feb. 28, 2023 10:52 p.m.

Commissioner Phil Chang says the city risks displacing residents before approved, alternative sites are available.

A Deschutes County commissioner called on Bend officials to postpone a planned removal of one of the city’s most populous camps of unhoused people.

The city intends to begin clearing campsites from Hunnell Road on March 16. Commissioner Phil Chang asked his fellow county leaders Monday to recommend delaying any potential closure by two to three months.


Chang is the lone Democrat elected to oversee the county, and he did not persuade his two Republican colleagues to take up the issue.

Bend spokesperson Anne Aurand said Monday that the city will proceed with a March 16 closure, but said “it’s possible we may have to take steps that result in less than a full, comprehensive removal.”

Hunnell Road is poised to be the latest location swept by Bend code enforcement officers assisted by police, which cleared numerous camps in the Second Street area last year, in some cases during extreme temperatures. In 2021, Bend police came under fire from the county prosecutor over their role during a camp removal, after officers reportedly tackled a man who made a run for the bathroom.

Chang told OPB that, while he supports an eventual closure of the camp located on the outskirts of Bend, he doesn’t think the next two weeks will be enough time to make sure residents have somewhere else to go.

A camper parked on North Hunnel Road in Bend, Oregon on December, 28, 2022. The city of Bend plans to clear the camp on March 16, but could slightly change.

A camper parked on North Hunnel Road in Bend, Oregon on December, 28, 2022. The city of Bend plans to clear the camp on March 16, but could slightly change.

Joni Land / OPB

“Just because Hunnell Road does need to be cleared, doesn’t mean we are ready at this moment to proceed with that,” he said to OPB.

Chang had mulled asking for the delay in the days prior to the meeting.


“Otherwise, we will be scattering these people to other existing and new unauthorized locations, which doesn’t really help anything or anyone,” he said in a Feb. 25 email to constituents.

While county commissioners didn’t unite in pressing the city to wait, they did verbally agree to partner with the city on opening a one-acre managed camp for unhoused people in southern Bend. The tentative agreement is that the city will provide the recently purchased land, while the county will hire a contractor to oversee its day-to-day operations.

Cheyenne Purrington, director of the county’s Coordinated Houseless Response Office, said preparing the nearly 30 campsites on the property could take up to two months.

That’s far less space than will be needed by the estimated 80 to 100 people living in tents, vehicles and RVs on Hunnell Road, in addition to the dozens of people living in camps east of Redmond, which officials in that city also plan to remove.

Purrington said the site in Bend will likely be the first of at least three managed camps located in different areas in the county.

Bend City Manager Eric King said talks about a “phased closing” of Hunnell Road have been ongoing, but that city officials are open to future discussions with the county. It’s still unclear what a phased approach exactly entails.

The debate over Hunnell Road comes as the city’s new anti-camping ordinance — which adds new restrictions on where, when and for how long people can camp outside on public property — takes effect this week. Other Central Oregon cities like Redmond and Burns are also working on their own camping codes in order to stay compliant with state law.

Temperatures in Bend plunged well below freezing last week, and some residents at Hunnell Road are currently needing treatment for frostbite, Purrington told commissioners.

A former mayor of Bend died while living unhoused and previously had one frostbitten toe amputated, as reported by The Bulletin.

Chang said in an interview that he’s often thought of one ominous statistic: the 19 people in Central Oregon who died experiencing homelessness last year.

“That is, in my mind, another good reason to postpone for just a few months,” he said. “The plight of our homeless neighbors during winter is something we should be thinking about very seriously.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the role of code enforcement officers and Bend Police in previous camp removals.