The dream of bringing homeless veterans into a project known as the Central Oregon Veterans Village is soon becoming a reality in Bend. This week the Bend Heroes Foundation laid the groundwork for the project which, when completed, will include individual tiny homes and a community building that will house 15 veterans on Deschutes County property adjacent to the public safety campus on US Highway 20 and are to be supported in North Bend.
The veterans fundraising and awareness foundation and Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, a nonprofit that serves homeless veterans, are hoping to see their first residents moving in by mid-February
Erik Tobiason, the President of the Bend Heroes Foundation.
After raising funds for the past two years and working to make this happen, Tobiason said it felt “extraordinary” to be about 30 days away from getting a forest veteran into the forest
“You thought you could never get to this day, so it’s incredibly exciting to be a part of something like this,” said Tobiason on Thursday. “It’s amazing to witness the county and the city and the citizens are working on this project.”
The village will be the first of its kind in central Oregon and is made possible in large part thanks to House Bill 4212, which passed state legislation this summer and allows local governments to create emergency shelters without going through the regular land-use process that can be costly The review takes a long time and requires public comment deadlines.
The village is also possible thanks to a mix of funding from Deschutes County, the City of Bend, and individual donations, Tobiason said. Around half of the project has been funded so far, which is enough to build the 15 tiny houses in phases within three months.
The foundation still needs funds for a 2,500 square meter community building that would have communal dining and shower facilities, said Tobiason.
It will run for $ 300,000 a year, Tobiason said. His vision is that the city, the district and private donations each pay a third for it. So far, the county has contributed $ 100,000, and the city has introduced a construction excise tax that is used to generate revenue from commercial building permits over time.
Central Oregon Veterans Outreach will be the organization that will manage the housing and help residents connect with the services.
Kathy Skidmore, the organization’s executive director, said the nonprofit is excited to see the village go online, especially as this year she has seen firsthand the effectiveness of Housing-First programs for homeless veterans.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Oregon Veterans Outreach used special state money to accommodate vulnerable homeless veterans in hotel rooms. Having more veterans in a shelter enabled the nonprofit to find permanent shelter for more veterans, Skidmore said.
According to Skidmore, Central Oregon Veterans Outreach was able to find permanent accommodation for 40% of the 57 veterans who stayed in hotels – a rate that is much higher than usual.
Part of that can be attributed to improved communications, said JW Terry, executive director of the veterans organization. Many homeless people do not have phones or only have a few minutes, which makes it difficult to communicate regularly by connecting to services.
But more than that, by providing protection on a regular basis, someone removes the chaos and stress that comes with living without protection, Skidmore added.
“When you feel safe, you feel healthier. You can focus on things that you can improve on and not just survive day in and day out, ”Skidmore said.
However, the project was met with objections. In emails sent to Bend City Council in the fall, some residents of the adjacent neighborhood raised concerns about how the homeless could affect their comfort and safety.
In 2019 there were problems in the Chestnut Park neighborhood. It’s located next to the thermal shelter held on the county public safety campus, said Annette Wilson Christensen, a neighborhood resident.
“While we all recognize the tremendous need for thermal insulation, the neighborhood experience was negative: trash was left along Poe Sholes (Drive), people knocked at the daycare center mistaking it for food, and garbage cans were (gun) in the entire neighborhood of Harvest Park, ”Christensen wrote in an email. “The abundance of homeless people had a real impact on our quality of life and our sense of security. How is the area outside the village monitored? “
Bend councilor Barb Campbell, who has been advocating the village project for over four years, said she understands people’s concerns.
Campbell said she believes that when you give someone a home and community, they want to take over the property and take care of it and, in turn, be motivated to be good neighbors.
“I really believe that most of our homeless people are people who want to be part of the community,” said Campbell. “You don’t want to feel like an outcast.”