Bend’s New City Zoning Codes will Allow for More Homeless Shelters

Additional volunteers needed to help with an influx in homeless individuals, especially during the holidays

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Shelters are full, streets are filled and Bend’s homeless population needs your help. Homelessness is a growing problem in Bend, with a 17 percent increase in homelessness in the past year. There are approximately 1,000 people who are currently experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon, including families and children (City of Bend, 2022). Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis with no simple solution and many complex causes, though there are effective ways to help. Especially during the holiday season, it’s important to reach out and support those who are less fortunate.

New shelter zoning code changes will allow for an existing use of “Temporary Housing” to be replaced with three permanent shelters and one temporary shelter. This will allow for more housing availability  (City Of Bend). New residences for the homeless bring more opportunities for volunteering to keep them running. More funding is being directed towards the new shelters that will house 500 homeless individuals, providing them with food, housing and the chance to get back on their feet, while also bringing in more volunteering options.

“If we had more shelter opportunities, those who are camping in areas that aren’t safe for the community could be relocated,” said Tara Feurtado, Bethlehem Inn Program Director. One of the permanent residences will be located at the corner of Bear Creek Road and NE 27th street, and like all the other new shelters, will change the lives of hundreds of individuals in need of support.

“The face of homelessness can be anyone. Not just those who struggle with addiction, or mental health considerations. It can be any human,” Feurtado said. “Being homeless isn’t who you are, it’s what you are experiencing at that moment in time. Anytime your family goes grocery shopping, grab an extra bottle of ranch or a box of cereal and drop it off at the shelter. If 30 high school students each just dropped off one small item, it would make a giant impact.”

What is often overlooked about the homeless is their identity. Being homeless isn’t who you are, instead, it’s a rough patch at that time in those individuals’ lives. With such a complicated and vast issue, many feel their efforts may be too insignificant to make a difference, although in reality so much can be done by simply caring about the issue enough to try to help.

“I think there are a lot of good ways to start volunteering. The family kitchen is always looking for volunteers and I’m also a part of the Interact Club at Summit where we share lots of volunteer opportunities,” said Julia Kaisner, a Summit student volunteer.

The barriers such as transportation or requirements for mental health appointments and assisted living put into place within the system are yet another challenge homeless individuals face in getting the help they need.

“The system doesn’t always work the way we want it to,” Feurtado said. “There are times when older individuals aren’t sick enough for assisted living. Or, someone who struggles with mental health considerations has to wait 2 months before getting a much needed mental health appointment. It is a challenge to move folks through systems when there are many barriers in place.” The new housing being built will help break some of the barriers related to overpopulated shelters and people camping in unsafe areas. New housing calls for more volunteers and after all of the struggles homeless individuals face, it’s important that everyone tries to do their part in helping to improve access to resources such as shelters, through volunteering.

From volunteering to donating to staying educated about local homelessness needs, there are so many ways to help those in need. Shelters in Bend include Bethlehem Inn, The Lighthouse, Cascade Youth & Family Shelter, Saving Grace and Shepherd’s House. These programs outline steps to getting help, getting involved and giving opportunities listed on their websites. All of the shelters listed above have websites that summarize easy and quick ways to sign up to volunteer. Holiday giving options are highlighted on the Bethlehem Inn website, including donation drives, fundraisers and ways to directly donate financially.

“I think it’s important to volunteer just as a way to give back, and it’s so rewarding. Plus, the holiday season is the perfect time to start since students have more free time,” Kaisner said. Especially during the holiday season, homeless shelters are in need of all the assistance they can get.

“Every human should do their part to help another human,” Feurtado said.