News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Ensure the health and safety of unsheltered

Bill Bartlett and The Nugget chose to run a column last week spotlighting one of our local family’s winter housing situation, living in a trailer and tent just outside of the Sisters city limits.

The most glaring element lacking in the column was the omission that the person or people being spotlighted, including the photo of their home, were not interviewed, or able share their side of the story in the column. This was a lopsided story, and a misleading subject. I question the author’s real intent or concern with the misleading headline of forest health or safety.

However, I agree with Bill. I enjoy walking in our community, and I can feel uncomfortable walking past places that feel threatening to me. For example, I feel that way about the houses in Sisters displaying Confederate flags. I purposely avoid walking in that area, where I feel unsafe. There is another home I am always unhappy seeing which has a huge collection of junk cars, a sailboat and dozens of other items left outdoors year-round.

As Sisters grows, we need to rid ourselves of these eyesores. I suggest that Bill, working with The Nugget, share a photo each week of someone’s home we don’t feel meets our standards, and publicly shame them. After we have worked through the junk in the yards, we can move onto woodpiles that are not neatly stacked, and finally gardens needing weeding or pine needles that should be raked up. Working together we can put peer pressure on all those who don’t live as we do. (I hope all will read this as sarcasm, and also a slippery slope.)

Ian Reid and his team do an exceptional job balancing the realities our houseless neighbors face and protecting the public resources of our National Forest.

Ian is actively at the table working with homeless advocates and we share common agreement that “no one should live in the forest.” Bill seems to imply that if the USFS just forced out all the trailers and tents from the area, the garbage, drug paraphernalia, and human waste would all disappear.

I’m sure Ian would say that is unlikely, and it is a ridiculous insult to assume the trash, beer cans, household waste, tires, and more that are found on forest land is all coming from the homeless camps.

But just a reminder, this family has no hook-ups available, and no trash service they can pay for.

The City has also been at the table around this issue, and I joined a team of folks last spring walking on USFS land just north of Williamson Avenue. There were no trailers or tents out there that day, but residents had begun complaining that the backyards of their new expensive homes overlooking places where people were camping; sometimes overnight, sometimes longer. One insight this group learned was the primitive forest service roads had existed for decades, and people had been camping in this area of town for years as evidenced by the rusted “can dumps” we located.

Anytime the homeless advocates have asked for permission to place a dumpster or a porta-potty to help reduce the trash on either city or forest service, we are met with a flat “no.” We will provide toilets for bikers and hikers, but not for the homeless.

Last month The Nugget reported on our two local citizens arrested for blasting a vehicle at an encampment just outside of town. This was not an isolated incident, just one that was reported and thankfully ended in an apprehension and criminal charges. Bill worries that there are often dogs guarding these camps: that is true because the people living out in the forest are routinely harassed, or have items stolen or damaged. Talk about safety!

My opinion is that perhaps instead of Mr. Bartlett’s concern about the health of the forest, we should first ensure the health and safety of fellow humans living unsheltered and outdoors.


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