Stacey Ray hunkered down in her Ford SUV last week as temperatures in Bend plunged to single digits. All of her food froze and she didn’t leave her car for days as she waited for warmer weather.
“It was horrible,” Ray said Wednesday. “You had to get under a couple of sleeping bags and not come back up till morning. Today is the first day that I’ve been out and about because I’m old — it hurts my bones.”
And in three months, she doesn’t know where she’ll be staying.
The city of Bend announced plans Wednesday to sweep a large outdoor camp on North Hunnel Road in March, the latest action in an effort to limit camping in Central Oregon’s largest city.
City Manager Eric King said the removal has long been planned due to construction projects in the area. Deschutes County has a goal to expand Hunnel Road next spring, and King said moving residents of the camp will ensure their safety as construction gets underway.
“(Construction is) the main driver, but there’s also public health and safety issues as well,” King said.
A city-led assessment conducted this fall stated there had been eight fires and 40 medical calls at the site in 2022. The city also noted the number of parked vehicles that violate city ordinances.
Unlike other camps in Bend, most people at the Hunnel Road site appeared to be camping in either recreational vehicles or small cars. That includes Shawna Gerdes, who has been living in a camper on the road since May.
Gerdes said she’s lived at 12 different campsites in Bend and has frequently been forced to move, making it more difficult for her to survive.
“If you want to try to have a job or you want to become a productive member of society, they make it very difficult when you’re not allowed to know that when you come home, your stuff’s still going to be there,” she said.
The planned sweep is the latest in a series of crackdowns on outdoor camping within city limits. The Bend City Council had said in January it would seek to stop sweeping camps as it focuses on creating more shelter beds.
So far, however, that hasn’t been the case. Officials removed camps on Second Street near downtown three separate times in 2022. The latest removal happened in October, when city staff vacated tents before sunrise, as temperatures were below freezing.
The City Council also narrowly approved restrictions in November that limit where and when people can camp on city property. The code, which goes into effect in March, requires people to move campsites at least 600 feet every 24 hours.
The council was heavily divided on the code change, approving it by a 4-3 vote.
City officials have come under fire for removing camps during the winter season. King said in the case of Hunnel Road, the date of the construction process required them to act.
“We’ve been talking that this project is coming — it shouldn’t be any large surprise,” he said. “More time is better for everyone to be able to help make plans and to create more transparency around it.”
King said long-awaited new shelter beds will come online early next year before the removal. The city will also partner with Deschutes County to finds new places for residents
But as with Second Street, many at Hunnel Road said they’ve heard very little about what will happen and are at a loss for where they’ll end up next.