When Bend City Manager Eric King announced plans in June to clear the city’s largest encampments, he centered on one statistic in particular: 1,527 calls for police service to those areas in one year.
For King, the figure was a reflection of how unsafe areas of northern Bend had become and the drain these camps were taking on city resources.
“It’s not just the quantity of calls,” King said in a recent interview. “It’s the types of calls and the unsafe situation for the residents living at Hunnell that played into that decision.”
The city completed removals of camps largely on Hunnell and Clausen roads last month, following weeks of legal pushback from service providers and dozens of people living in tents and RVs. Advocates for people experiencing homelessness said city officials overemphasized safety concerns as an excuse to displace between 60 and 150 people, many of whom said they had nowhere else to go.
OPB’s analysis of Bend police data shows a complicated picture. It’s true that people reported a number of violent crimes — including 15 reports of assault or rape, and 22 reports of hit-and-run incidents. Some people who lived on Hunnell Road agreed, it didn’t feel safe.
But the bulk of incidents did not involve any alleged crimes, and many of the calls referenced by King were initiated by police officers themselves.
More than half of all the calls recorded between last summer and this summer did not involve alleged crimes against people or property. Instead many of these calls focused on quality of life complaints such as reports of suspicious behavior, road hazards and welfare checks. More than 20% of all calls were police initiated, meaning the call came from officers on the ground and no one dialed 911.
Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz said officers stopping people and questioning them is routine police work that could reveal criminal activity. Officials could not say how many of the calls resulted in arrests or charges.
Krantz said no matter the source of a call, there were still too many incidents for the area, which is sparsely populated and surrounded by shopping centers. It’s especially difficult for a department he described as “one of the leanest” in the state.
“It’s not always satisfying to walk away from those calls and knowing that you didn’t really change it,” Krantz said. “And that’s what we see a lot around homelessness is that those are not police-related calls.”
There were significantly more calls to police during the same time period in other neighborhoods across Bend, which are larger and have a greater population density. Both King and Krantz said the number of calls to Hunnell and Clausen roads was compared with other parts of the city, but officials later declined to share such data or studies.
Some advocates have argued the call response data to homeless camps was misleading. Chuck Hemingway worked as a service provider on Hunnell and Clausen roads for years and unsuccessfully fought the city’s camp removals in court.
He pointed out that some calls came from nearby department stores. It’s unclear if people living in the camps were actually involved.
“I didn’t think that was right,” Hemingway said. “I thought [the city] should be concentrating only on those calls that were limited to Hunnell and Clausen.”
His job has gotten more difficult since the city finished removing the camps last month. He’s lost track of many of the people he worked to help. Some have scattered across the region, Hemingway said.
“You build a sense of community and then when you don’t see them like you have in the past, it’s tough, in the sense that you lose connection.”
City Manager King said calls for service were just one reason the city closed the roads with dense camps. These areas were also in violation of the city’s anti-camping code, which took effect in March.
King said the city’s current focus is providing different shelter options for people, so that everyone feels they have a place to go after a camp clearing happens.
“The missing piece of that puzzle is a managed camp,” King said. “We’ve been open about that needing to be a solution and it’s been a struggle.”
In Central Oregon, managed camps offering designated parking areas have been discussed as a possible solution for people living in RVs, which aren’t allowed at many shelters. Bend and Deschutes County officials discussed plans for a managed camp in southern Bend, but those plans fell through after the County Board of Commissioners backed out.
Michael Di Ciolla lived on Hunnell Road for five months leading up to its closure by city officials. He said he often saw fights and other crimes. He partly blames the city for allowing conditions to deteriorate.
“[The city] never put in street lights, they never put a lot of stuff that they should have put to make it a safe road. Women weren’t safe walking down this road, and [the city] kept it that way,” Di Ciolla said.
He said he’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and it would become too much for him.
“I had to leave my tent and walk away every day,” Di Ciolla said. “I would go off and scream at the top of my lungs because I couldn’t take it anymore.”
He moved to a site far away from others. But there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to stay long. Outside of high-profile large camp removals, the city has been cracking down on individual sites as well. Since Bend’s anti-camping code took effect in March, enforcement officials have opened nearly 270 cases for people to move.
Members of the Bend City Council are currently planning a roundtable with other local and federal agencies to discuss the impact of homelessness across the region. A meeting date has not yet been announced.