Following an incident involving a guest outside the Cold Weather Shelter earlier this winter, neighbors raised some concerns about the shelter and its proximity to schools and neighborhoods among other things.

Shelter leadership convened a public meeting with professional facilitation in early February to hear comments and questions from the community concerning the shelter. Some brief answers were provided that evening, but the meeting’s main purpose was to collect the concerns so they could be fully addressed at a later date by the shelter steering committee.

After a number of meetings and careful consideration of all concerns, the committee recently released a five-and-a-half page document that addresses in detail all questions and concerns.

Part of the document states: “The Steering Committee will continue to meet regularly throughout the summer. The summer months are utilized to evaluate the shelter season, adjust and improve systems and services, and plan for the next winter’s operations. Meetings will include a debrief session, review of the annual volunteer survey, creating a budget, updating systems and policies, and setting the 2019/2020 shelter schedule.”

A majority of the questions dealt with shelter-specific topics including concerns about reported increased trash in the neighborhood, shelter proximity to schools and churches, background checks or drug tests, out of town shelter guests, assisting guests to secure services, training for volunteers, availability of crisis teams, and numbers of returning guests from year-to-year.

The committee also provided information on concerns not related directly to the Sisters’ shelter. Those included number of year-round shelters in Bend, number of deaths attributed to houselessness in last two years, total number of crimes in Sisters in 2018, the role of Sisters City Council in addressing houselessness, availability of community services, and whether there has been an increase in houselessness.

Each of the concerns was discussed by the steering committee, with the primary mission of the shelter in mind: “As an emergency cold weather shelter, our mission is to provide a hot meal and a bed, and to save lives during cold weather.”

Plans have been made for keeping the grounds around the shelter free of trash while the shelter is in residence. The document provides information on background checks and drug screens, explaining the procedures in place for everyone’s safety — guests and neighbors.

Most guests are in transition and in need of only temporary shelter. Although no records are kept specifically for deaths among the houseless in Central Oregon, the SCWS is confident that people have been prevented from dying due to exposure by coming to the shelter. Days before the shelter opened, a Sisters McDonalds employee died in his vehicle from hypothermia. There have been no weather-related deaths of a houseless member of the community in Sisters since then.

According to records provided by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, total crimes reported in Sisters for 2018 numbered over 300. “Homeless or transient” people accounted for five to seven of those crimes. Sheriff’s records provide no differentiation between local houseless individuals or people just passing through.

There is another group in town, the Sisters Homeless Networking Group, which has been meeting for the last year working to address the larger issues and needs of the local houseless population and the community. They are also working to develop strategies to move people out of, or to help prevent, houselessness.

The group has broad representation, including the City of Sisters, the U.S. Forest Service, Family Access Network, Sisters Library, Sisters Park & Recreation District, Sisters Cold Weather Shelter, and many other community members and organizations. George Myers is coordinating meetings of this group and can be reached at george@gwmyers.com.


Additional responses not published in the print edition of The Nugget:

The Sisters Cold Weather Shelter Steering Committee provides the following responses to the questions, comments and concerns raised during the February 4th Community Meeting. Some of the responses included were covered briefly at the meeting, but have been expanded upon after discussion and reflection. The Steering Committee also hopes that responses herein provide additional clarification of the shelter’s mission, operations and policies.

The Steering Committee will continue to meet regularly throughout the summer. The summer months are utilized to evaluate the shelter season, adjust and improve systems and services, and plan for the next winter’s operations. Meetings will include; a debrief session, review of the annual volunteer survey, creating a budget, updating systems and policies, and setting the 2019/2020 shelter schedule.

The Sisters Cold Weather Shelter continues to recruit and welcome volunteers to be part of the Steering Committee and/or help with the shelter in other ways. Anyone who wants to become involved or has additional questions may reach out to the current Steering Committee Chair, Gary Eidsmoe at gary.eidsmoe@gmail.com.

A local work group that was not mentioned at the February meeting is the Sisters Homeless Networking group. This group has been meeting for the past 11 months and has broad representation, including the City of Sisters, the Forest Service, FAN, the Sisters Library, SPRD, SCWS, and many other community members. This group is working to address the larger issues & needs of our local homeless population and the community. They are also working to develop strategies to move people out of or prevent homelessness. The Networking group has been provided with the list of “other issues” created at the February 4 meeting. George Myers is coordinating meetings of this group and can be reached at george@gwmyers.com.

The questions, marked in bold below, came from audience questions and concerns generated at the February 4 community meeting. The bullet points provided are answers, clarifications and/or solutions developed by the steering committee.

SHELTER SPECIFIC QUESTIONS



Trash increased in the neighborhood-help clean up?


• Shelter hosts will place an exterior garbage can at each shelter location.

• Clean up near shelters:

• Trash clean-up outside of shelter locations has been added to shelter monitor’s checklists - morning and night.

• Shelter volunteers will make guests aware of community concerns about trash around the shelter locations.

• The Sisters Homeless Networking group is addressing trash issues in the larger community and in the National Forest.

• The SCWS is again partnering with SPRD on their April 20, 2019 Earth Day Community Cleanup.



Concern about Shelter location and proximity to schools and neighborhoods and impact on kids.

• Churches have offered their facilities and other shelter locations are not available at this time.

• Churches function successfully as emergency cold weather shelters in other Central Oregon towns and across the state.

• The shelter closes for the day at 7am and monitors assure that guests leave the neighborhood at that time.

• Shelter guests are not allowed to wait near the shelter before it opens, and they must enter the building when they arrive.

• Guests or guest vehicles are not allowed on shelter grounds when shelter is closed.

• Guests cannot come and go during shelter hours. Guests who leave after checking in, cannot return to the shelter that evening.

• Sleeping in vehicles or tents on the shelter grounds is not allowed.

• Shelter policies have been tightened to avoid loitering on shelter grounds.

What kind of background checks or drug tests are being done to assure safety in the neighborhoods?

• SCWS is defined as a low barrier, temporary, emergency cold weather shelter. By design, such shelters do not do background checks or drug screening. This ensures that anyone can stay warm and alive during cold winter weather.

• There is no feasible way to run background checks at an emergency shelter, as new people needing shelter, can arrive any evening between 6pm and 10pm.

• The SCWS is aware of Oregon laws regarding sex offenders. There is currently no law about distance from schools and shelters are not considered a permanent residence for any guest.

• Guests do not come and go from the shelter during school hours.

• Guests are monitored continuously from 6pm to 7am. There are always at least two monitors present during shelter hours.

• It is well documented that cold weather shelters provide increased safety to guests and to local communities. “The more contact there is, the safer it is for everyone” John from Shepherd’s House Ministries.

• The Sisters Cold Weather Shelter mission and focus is on providing safe shelter that keeps people alive during the cold weather months.

• The SCWS Steering Committee members engage in ongoing dialogue around shelter and community safety and regularly explore procedures to best assure the safety of guests and the community.

• In 2018 SCWS instituted a Code of Conduct (including behavioral expectations) that is read to and signed by each guest and is strictly enforced.

• Behavior is constantly monitored. Guests are not allowed to stay if they do not follow the Code of Conduct or behavioral expectations.

• Shelter volunteers and employees consistently report feeling safe while working at the shelter.

Why are people from out of town accepted at the SCWS?

• Fair housing and public accommodation laws prohibit us from limiting emergency shelter to Sisters residents.

• We do not market our shelter out of town, and we don’t encourage people to come to Sisters.

• Organizations providing shelter in Central Oregon are currently meeting to standardize when shelters are open.

• We do not transport people from out of the area to the shelter.



How are you addressing the causes of their homelessness-helping them get into a better situation?

• As an emergency cold weather shelter our mission is to provide a hot meal and a bed, and to save lives during cold weather.

• We participate in meetings of the Sisters Homeless Networking group, where the larger issues of homelessness in our community are being addressed.

• We provide guests with written information (provided by community agencies) on housing and other resources.

What type of training is offered to volunteers for dealing with mental health issues?

• Complimentary Mental Health First Aid training and certification is offered to all volunteers by the Central Oregon Health Council.

• Paid shelter monitors are required to attend the training, volunteer monitors are encouraged to attend.

• FAN advocates, local mental health professionals, and Shepherd’s House employees have provided training for volunteer monitors.

• Deschutes County Mental Health is available for consultation.

Is there a local crisis team?

• Deschutes County has 24/7 mental health crisis team available to help guests access services as needed.



How many guests return each year?

• A small number of individuals and families who live in the Sisters community year-round and have inadequate shelter, have chosen to return to the shelter during very cold weather.

• Most guests are in transition and in need of only temporary shelter. They do not typically return.

NON-SHELTER SPECIFIC QUESTIONS



How many year-round shelters are offered in Bend?

• There are various shelters, most at capacity. There is only one cold weather shelter in Bend.

• All communities in Central OR have, or are working to have, emergency cold weather shelters.

What is the number of homeless who have died in the past two years in Sisters and Central Oregon?

• Records are not kept specifically for homeless. We are unable to ascertain a figure but are confident that the SCWS has prevented people dying from exposure.

• We know one person, a McDonald’s’ employee, died in their vehicle from hypothermia in December 2016, days before SCWS first opened. There have been no deaths since then in Sisters.

What is the total number of crimes in Sisters in 2018? 

• According to Sheriff’s office 5-7 crimes were listed as being committed by “homeless or transient” people. Sheriff’s records provide no differentiation on whether these were just people passing through. Total crimes listed in Sisters for 2018 was over 300.

• We have had no reported crime at the shelter.



How might the City Council support the need for a shelter, possibly helping find alternate locations?

• The City council is at the table of the Homeless Networking group meetings. There are ongoing discussions.

• Citizens should contact the City Council directly with questions and ideas.



What community resources are available to individuals who need help-shelter guests as well as shelter volunteers? 

• Multiple resources available including: FAN, 2 food banks, Mosaic Medical VAN, NeighborImpact...but no other resource provides emergency cold weather shelter in or near Sisters.

• SCWS provides a meal and a bed.

Increase in shelter guests/homeless? 

• The shelter averages 8-15 guests per night each year. There has not been an increase over the three years.

• Emergency shelters do not increase homelessness.