News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

County reaches out to Sisters’ homeless

Deschutes County Health Services (DCHS) employees Colleen Thomas and Katie DeVito have begun local homeless outreach in the national forest surrounding Sisters. They have consulted with Lt. Chad Davis, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Sisters office, Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid, and Family Access Network’s Dawn Cooper concerning the local situation to better coordinate their efforts.

Forest Service law enforcement officer John Soules accompanied Thomas and DeVito as they visited about 20 camps in the last few weeks to meet the people and begin to build


DeVito and Thomas hope to bridge the gap between the campers and support services available to them such as accessing the Oregon Health Plan, Social Security benefits, food stamps, energy assistance, veteran’s benefits, and birth certificates. The overall goal is to help them find long-term stable housing, which 95 percent say they want. DCHS is partnering with St. Charles to offer pop-up clinics where the unhoused can receive free vaccinations.

The biggest common denominator among the unhoused is unaffordable housing in Central Oregon coupled with needing access to showers and transportation. Twenty to 30 percent of the campers are employed and their demographics include families with children, multigenerational families, and singles, both male and female. DeVito said their contacts with the campers are not a one-time stop; they will be making regular visits to provide a safety net of services.

With funds from several different sources, including the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic’s Demonstration Program and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, DCHS is able to provide the personnel to staff specialized homeless services, including Project in Assistance for Transition from Homelessness (PATH), which provides direct street outreach and case management. They also coordinate and develop services for unhoused individuals and track progress on housing for all clients.

According to the County, homelessness is not a one-size-fits-all challenge. It should be addressed with person-centered, individualized approaches. Officials contend that the best approach to addressing homelessness is as a continuum of options, from managed camps to permanent supportive housing and multifamily units, and everything in between.

As a region, the focus needs to be on the gaps in that continuum of housing and services to ensure choices and options are being given to those experiencing homelessness. Experience has shown that unhoused individuals do best when supported in their community as opposed to displacement outside their community. According to Thomas, in Sisters, most of the unhoused have lived here at least six months, many much longer.

Mayor Michael Preedin told the County representatives, “We want to help any way we can.”

For more information contact Colleen Thomas, homeless services coordinator, at 458-292-6397 or Katie DeVito, PATH homeless outreach coordinator, at 458-292-6160.


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