News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters cares

Sisters has been my home for 20 years. I love living here, surrounded by the beauty of Mother Nature and all her critters. I never tire of gazing up at Faith, Hope, and Charity, especially when they are cloaked in their white winter coats, set against a crystalline blue sky.

Sisters and Camp Sherman are places holding fond memories from my childhood summers. The smell of sage and pine scenting the air after a brief summer rain carries me right back to my youth.

For me, Sisters is an energy vortex harboring calm, well-being, and creativity. The good people of Sisters are just that — good, kind, generous, and willing to help when a need arises. I know there is concern in some corners that as we grow we will lose that special small town feel of cooperation and compassion. That will only happen if we let it happen by letting suspicion, ill-will, and closed hearts take over.

Seven years ago, a group of citizens and several churches saw the need for a cold weather shelter in Sisters during the winter. We wanted to provide a warm meal and safe shelter for our neighbors who found themselves without permanent housing, often living in tents, crude shelters, cars, and trailers or RVs in poor repair. That winter, before the first church opened its doors to the shelter, a gentleman employed in Sisters and living in his car, froze to death. That misfortune provided extra incentive to get the shelter operational.

The first several years, local churches each hosted the shelter for a month, providing space to serve meals and offer safe, dry sleeping accommodations. The shelter was a 100 percent volunteer effort and the response from Sisters individuals and businesses was nothing short of amazing. People volunteered to prepare and bring a complete dinner each night for the shelter guests as well as breakfast supplies that could be taken “to go” in the morning.

The Shepherd’s House in Bend acted as our fiscal agent and provided valuable training for the volunteers who served as shelter monitors each evening. Two of their staff members were paid to staff the overnight shift to be available to the guests for any needs that might arise.

Monetary donations made it possible to purchase plastic crates to hold the guests’ belongings as well as pay operating costs. Mattresses were secured from the Deschutes County jail. Local businesses and Habitat for Humanity donated jackets, gloves, and hats to help keep the guests warm when they returned to the cold in the morning. Gift cards from local restaurants helped provide more meals.

A real sense of community developed among the volunteers and the guests. Those with dogs who didn’t want to leave them out in the cold were relieved that local families took in the dogs for them, providing food and shelter.

Lois Kaping of Wellhouse Church was a driving force in establishing the shelter. She and her committee secured all the necessary legal and paperwork to open the shelter. Her positive attitude and servant’s heart set the tone for all the volunteers. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic created unforeseen difficulties for the shelter, including being unable to utilize the local churches. The scope of the shelter got whittled down and some of the original vibrancy went missing.

The original shelter is just one example of how Sisters’ residents rise to the occasion to meet the needs of their neighbors. When the elementary school needed to be expanded, lack of funds didn’t stop the town. Volunteers came together to make the addition a reality. When illness, accident, or loss of employment creates a need, the generosity of the community surfaces and needs are met.

Businesses in town respond over and over and over to requests for donations to various fundraising efforts. The nonprofits and service clubs in Sisters provide important support in a variety of ways, including the Kiwanis Food Bank, Rotary’s Books for Kids, and the Lions, Rotary, and Kiwanis scholarships for graduating high school seniors. The Community Leadership Team and Jeremy Fields of the U.S. Forest Service make weekly rounds to camps to pick up garbage and bring potable water and garbage bags. These are only a sampling of the many ongoing generous efforts happening in Sisters.

There is help available for those living in the forest. Deschutes County has a behavioral health specialist in Sisters who helps people needing assistance to connect to services, health care, and possible shelter.

Often in The Nugget there are stories about another volunteer effort, needs met, and thank-yous for help from grateful recipients.

Currently not having a cold weather shelter to provide for our unhoused neighbors is distressing to many people in Sisters. It is a complex situation with points to made on all sides of the issue. Hopefully, a wide swath of the citizens can pull together, present a thorough, professional request to the City, and find adequate funding and a suitable facility to make the shelter a reality. Not having a shelter right now is not an indication that Sisters doesn’t care. We care a great deal and show it through our many generous endeavors.

We always have.


Reader Comments(1)

York writes:

Your column is a lovely testament to good works of Sisters and yes there will be many more actions of good. You finish your writings with the topic of the lack of a shelter. This is where I will continue. There was a thorough, professional request to the city. Yet the council chose to deny this application. The items listed in this denial are all very manageable if city leaders were serious in helping. There was absolutely NO effort to discuss mediation of those issues. This city had all the funding it would need to not only shelter but provide rehousing assistance and staffing.