High rents, inflation create instability
Last updated 10/18/2022 at Noon
High rental housing costs, low inventory of affordable homes, and climbing inflation conspire to keep a certain percentage of Sisters residents from having stable permanent housing, even if they have full-time employment.
On Thursday evening, October 20, Citizens4Community and The Nugget Newspaper are co-sponsoring a community forum at the Sisters Fire Hall Community Room at 301 S. Elm St. and the public is invited. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the program begins at 6 p.m. Six panel members will each present information on a different aspect of houselessness, from Buddy Blair, employed in Sisters, who lives in the forest with his family, to Lt. Chad Davis, Sisters office of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. Following the panel presentations, the floor will open to questions.
Lois Kaping, who was one of the first co-chairs of the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS) steering committee, will discuss the role the faith community has played in assisting our unhoused neighbors. Kaping now serves as the Wellhouse Church (formerly Westside) liaison to the SCWS.
In its first two winters, the Shelter served 12-24 clients a night, including one family with two children, who were helped to find permanent housing. Those winters, “foster pet parents” cared for guests’ dogs so they didn’t have to leave them at their camps. The Shelter opened for the first time in January 2017 and successfully served 41 adults and three children over three months, providing 860 bed nights, hot dinners, and breakfasts.
Kaping said last year about 10 people would show up for dinner, with some returning to their camps for the night to protect their belongings from possible theft, and to be with their dogs as there are no longer foster pet parents.
The good news is that more than a few guests found permanent housing. Through the work of Dawn Cooper of the Sisters Family Access Network (FAN), a number of outcomes helped shelter guests to improve their situation, including: obtained birth certificate; applied for employment; began work; obtained Oregon State I.D.; received food benefits; received OHP medical insurance; applied for housing; obtained permanent housing/shelter; and connected to legal services.
Kaping thinks that having community members volunteer at the Shelter has helped to break down barriers and undo stereotypes through finding commonalities between the volunteers and guests. Sitting down together for a meal, and conversing, helps guests to feel seen and heard, providing them a sense of dignity. That first winter, 60 residents trained to serve as volunteers.
City Councilor Andrea Blum will be representing the City on the panel. She is the City’s representative on the new City-County Coordinated Houseless Response Office. This group is one of eight pilot programs in the state that will receive $1 million for start-up to provide high-level coordination in a central location, to create a more responsive system for houseless residents.
The office will serve as a clearinghouse for houseless residents and service providers. By centralizing the information, it will be easier to identify service gaps and duplications.
Blum said that the City’s role in addressing houselessness is to support those nonprofit organizations that directly address houselessness to improve the lives of the unhoused in Sisters Country.
“State law pinpoints exactly what we can do,” Blum explained.
She said something the City can do is help people who work and live in the community by working on codes that would make affordable housing easier to build.
The City of Bend is providing the office space for the Response Office and representatives from each city in Deschutes County serve on the steering committee. A new executive director was just recently hired, coming from the tourist town of Lake Tahoe, which shares some common issues with Deschutes County.