Town Hall will address homelessness
Last updated 10/4/2022 at Noon
Colleen Thomas seeks to “demystify” the people who are experiencing homelessness in Sisters Country. She is hoping that a “Houseless in Sisters” Town Hall event set for Thursday, October 20, at the Sisters Fire District Community Hall will go a long way toward doing that.
Thomas, Deschutes County’s homeless services coordinator, is one of five panelists who will participate in the forum, sponsored by Citizens4Community (C4C) and The Nugget Newspaper.
“All individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and we are all citizens of Central Oregon or Sisters Country,” she said.
She hopes the town hall can bridge a divide between those who are housed in Sisters Country and the forest dwellers who are not, so that the community is not viewed in an us/them manner.
She hopes to “find some common ground and be able to move forward without stigma for those who are living without four walls and running water.”
Thomas is careful in the language she uses to describe “people who are experiencing houselessness,” because referring to someone simply as “homeless” creates a defining identity.
“I think it’s important for us to bridge that gap instead of ‘othering’ them,” she said.
Thomas notes that Sisters’ houseless population is different from that in Bend — virtually everyone without four walls and running water in Sisters Country is living in the forest, as opposed to Bend, where there are encampments right in the urban area.
And circumstances are different for different populations in Sisters. Many forest dwellers are working in Sisters, and Thomas said they are independent and resourceful and “they don’t necessarily need that close connection to services.”
For those folks, needs are oriented around a sense of connection.
On the other hand, “there is a subset within Sisters Country that do have significant mental health and/or substance abuse disorders,” she said.
Thomas has high hopes for positive outcomes from the Town Hall.
“It’s important to have difficult conversations, because this is a difficult topic,” she said. “I want to hear what people’s experiences have been. All voices should be heard as (we) move toward a solution. I hope it’s more solution-focused — that’s my optimism — rather than spinning our wheels on the negative things.”
For her, “solutions” mean that the community is able to “ensure that individual needs are being met.” That can mean very practical things, like extending public shower hours, providing access to water and to lockers so that forest-dwelling workers don’t have to leave possessions in camp.
“There are really tangible solutions,” she said.
Other panelists for the Houseless in Sisters Town Hall include Buddy Blair, who lives in the forest and works in Sisters; Lois Kaping, a faith-based advocate; Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid; Andrea Blum, Sisters city councilor; and Lt. Chad Davis of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m .; the panel discussion starts at 6 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session. Information on volunteer opportunities will be available. Sisters Fire Hall is located at 301 S. Elm St.