Controversy about shelter intensifies
Last updated 8/15/2023 at 12:51pm
Sisters City Council chambers were packed to overflowing on Wednesday, August 9.
The intense interest in the scheduled City Council workshop revolved around an application by Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS) for City approval to operate an emergency shelter at 192 W. Barclay Dr. The proposed siting has stirred citizenry in vociferous opposition or support of the proposed shelter.
Some 35-40 attendees were forced to stand in the doorway or vestibule, straining to hear the proceedings. Another 100 attended the sessions by Zoom.
The workshop began with formalities by the mayor and city manager, both of whom made it clear to the crowded room that no decision with respect to the application would be made that evening.
The mayor stated that more than half those living in the woods around Sisters are employed, and that 26 students in the Sisters School District were houseless.
Several in attendance thought erroneously that Council was voting that evening on the application and/or that Council is the deciding body (see sidebar below). The state legislation that would allow the siting of the shelter purposely bypasses the local land use process, and makes it an administrative procedure. That means the acceptance or rejection of the application rests with the Planning Department led by Scott Woodford, community development director.
Woodford was first to address Council. He outlined the specifics of the application, and the guiding State legislation. After a few minutes the floor was turned over to board representatives of SCWS, whose principal spokesman was its president, Luis Blanchard. He took about 10 minutes in outlining the merits of the application (which is available on the City of Sisters website). Council members then took turns questioning him and his colleagues.
While their questions were many, most stemmed from a concern about health or safety. At one point the mayor asked Lt. Chad Davis to come forward and answer a few safety or enforcement-related questions. Davis is head of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office in Sisters, located three blocks from the proposed shelter.
Davis took a half dozen questions, concluding that his department is prepared to meet any response that might arise from the shelter’s operation. He recalled a few calls to the shelter in its temporary locations in 2022 saying, “I don’t have exact numbers. It wasn’t an extreme amount.”
As 6:30 p.m. approached, the regular session of the Council meeting commenced. After formalities the meeting was turned over to the 24 citizens who signed up to address Council in “visitor communications,” each limited to three minutes’ duration. Most observed the time allotment without the mayor’s reminder.
Three speakers relinquished their time and two spoke on subjects other than the shelter application. Speakers remained generally on point, with those opposing the application outnumbering proponents about three to two.
Most of those speaking in opposition expressed some form of concern that the shelter would grow beyond its intent, becoming a magnet for additional number of homeless, or would pose a health or safety risk to the community.
Several speakers live in the ClearPine neighborhood, a 97-unit subdivision at its closest point 450 feet from the Barclay address, although separated by industrial buildings and with no thoroughfare. Neighbors spoke both in opposition and in favor of the siting.