Shelter advocates respond to concerns

 

Last updated 8/15/2023 at 9:46am



Several citizen speakers before the City Council meeting of August 9 expressed frustration that the applicant for proposed emergency shelter on Barclay Drive was not clear in their intent or were purposely misleading.

Some cited conflicting or contradictory statements made by the nonprofit Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS) in various public communications. The Nugget interviewed SCWS Board President Luis Blanchard at length Friday, and sought definitive clarification.

Blanchard was unequivocal that the shelter is just that — a shelter and nothing more, “emergency relief from weather related causes — cold, heat, or smoke.” However, he then went on talking about other services that could be possible in the building, such as the office for a Deschutes County mental health professional who works in Sisters two days per week.

Blanchard imagines a community kitchen and shower facilities as well as being a navigation center for directing homeless for other available services throughout the county.

It is that talk of other services that rankles opponents, who worry that such a broadened facility and mission will encourage loitering or be a magnet for homeless numbers fleeing Bend or Redmond.

“It is not new services,” Blanchard insisted. “These services are already in Sisters. It’s a consolidation into one location were it to happen.” Family Kitchen has a weekly dinner meal service from 4 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday at Sisters Community Church. Public shower facilities exist at Village Green Park.

When asked if he could see that some of his comments could be misconstrued, or fuel concerns, or were possibly contradictory to the statement that “it’s a shelter and nothing more,” Blanchard answered: “We have probably been myopic about this and I am not the best spokesman for our effort. I can let my emotions or hopes or enthusiasm influence my words. We are looking for an executive director who will be more skilled or have more experience in addressing community concerns.”

He insists, however, that the shelter will be safe, utilizing cameras and other monitoring techniques.

“People forget that we’ve already been operating a cold weather shelter in Sisters for some years in churches without danger to the volunteers or guests,” he said.

He laments at what he perceives is widespread misinformation about the shelter program. He cited by example one of the speakers before Council who told of an individual who “knifed himself” at one of the shelters.

“That’s simply not true,” Blanchard said. “That individual was never in our shelter and was taken to the Deschutes County Intake Center to save him from self-harm within hours of arriving in Sisters. Police reports will substantiate that.”

In a follow-up interview, Blanchard said: “There has been a lack of leadership in the City on this issue. We have met for over a year with the mayor, Council members, the city managers, and they generally praise our efforts but won’t take the lead in addressing the wider problem.”

The SCWS received a $1,500 grant from the City for supplies.

The Nugget’s previous reporting has referred to the Barclay facility as being “dormitory style” lodging — a descriptor heard from SCWS. A deeper look at the layout reveals that there will not be individual rooms, motel style. Those seeking shelter will sleep on the floor on a mat, not in a bed, just as they have historically.

Blanchard acknowledged that his reference to the facility being large enough for 40 was misleading. Forty is the number the fire marshal has rated as the occupancy limit for the building, including staff and volunteers, and Blanchard said that is not an indication that such a number is likely to seek shelter.

“Generally we get seven to 10 a night in the shelter, when operated in the churches. That’s what we expect for the new shelter,” Blanchard said.

He acknowledged that the number could increase depending on the severity of the event.

The SCWS expects the outcome of the City decision on the application to be appealed, regardless of the decision by planners, so has availed itself of publicly funded advocacy attorneys as well as hiring its own private attorney.

 

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