Homeless shelter draws opposition
Last updated 8/8/2023 at 9:44am
In the last 10 days dozens of flyers have been posted along Cascade, Hood, and Main asking readers to oppose the establishment of a planned emergency shelter in an industrial area on West Barclay Drive. Some of the flyers were tacked up with the permission of business owners and others were placed without their approval, or on public property.
No person or organization is taking responsibility for the flyers, and as quickly as they go up some citizens are removing them in objection to the nature of the messaging. The intent and verbiage of the flyers is resistance to the shelter proposal, and asking concerned citizens to join in opposition.
Since the first flyers appeared, organized challenges to the application by the nonprofit Sisters Cold Weather Shelter to operate the facility have grown. Organically, with no central organizing party, a public meeting was quickly assembled on August 1 at 9 a.m. at the community meeting room at the Sisters Fire Hall.
In attendance were some 40 persons, most in expressed opposition to the shelter’s siting. The city manager, city clerk and community development director were present but when asked, City Manager Jordan Wheeler said he did not know if or how City officials received an invitation to the meeting.
“I think we saw it on Facebook and one of our team thought it would be a good idea to be present,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler and his colleagues were soon the recipients of most of the often-heated questions or accusations, in absence of anybody speaking officially for Sisters Cold Weather Shelter. Attendees had been led to believe that Luis Blanchard, board president of the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, would be there to answer questions.
Blanchard had agreed to meet with three or four Barclay Drive business owners at the Fire hall that morning at 10 a.m. to continue his discussions that he had been having one-to-one by phone with them.
“By 9:45 I realized I would be walking into a hostile situation with a large group of people, not the three or four I had been asked to meet with,” Blanchard said. “It felt like an ambush.”
He declined to attend, further aggravating the attendees.
A good number of the attendees were business owners who expressed frustration and asserting that the City was working on behalf of the applicant. They were not satisfied with Wheeler’s and his colleagues’ response that they were still working through the application, which has turned into a contentious issue.
Some in the audience believe the applicant doesn’t meet the controversial legislatively established criteria and want the City to conduct a regular land use process. Wheeler and Community Development Director Woodford both acknowledged that HB2006 (the state law providing funding for the shelter) was designed specifically to avoid land use process, “because people don’t like shelters; we know that.”
Some attendees asserted that there was a disconnect between public officials and its citizens and were asking why neither the Mayor nor any Council members were on hand. Council has scheduled the matter to be discussed at its regularly scheduled August 9 workshop session. Opponents and proponents are marshaling their constituents to attend the 5:30 p.m. session and address Council.
On August 3, a group of nine business owners located near the site of the proposed Shelter wrote a five-page letter to the City laying out in copious detail their objections and citing various Oregon statutes and provisions that would disqualify the application.
The Nugget spoke at length with some of the co-signors to the letter. One, Curt Kallberg, a contractor, summarizes the opposition on grounds that the building, originally a feed store, is not suitable for the applicant’s intended use. Moreover he said he is irked at the “State’s ramming this down our throats. It just rubs me the wrong way.”
Another co-signer, Julie Bartolotta, owner of Sani Star, says her objections revolve mostly around what she perceives as the lack of a business plan and other contingencies.
“It’s a business and needs to be run like a business. The whole thing is super vague and we’re not getting much information,” she said.
For his part, Blanchard says he has been meeting with neighboring businesses and residents almost every day and has answered every question put to his group by the planning department.
He admits to being taken aback by the level of opposition, and doesn’t understand how there can be any objection to the location or purpose of the shelter.
“I believe we have broad community support for helping those unfortunate enough to be outside when it’s 15 or 20 degrees,” he said. “I’m sure once people have all the facts and we’ve answered all their questions, that Sisters will be convinced of the merits of the shelter and our ability to manage it.”