Saving Bend

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

We were in Bend last weekend. We love being in Bend. What’s not to like? The setting reminds us of Whitefish, Montana, where we were married forty plus years ago. Few places can rival Bend for its rugged natural beauty, its pristine air and water and its abundance of recreational opportunities. As Bend has grown it has also become a Mecca for “foodies”, brewery aficionados, and a nascent arts community. What’s not to like?

Well, what’s not to like is an open festering cancer which has metastasized from its primary source, Portland – an aggressive, invasive and hostile force of deadbeats, drug addicts and panhandlers. The Bend Bulletin, commenting on a Facebook posting by a local merchant, best summarized it by saying:

“People in the community have complained for years about harassment, loitering and drug use in the Riverfront Plaza of downtown Bend near Drake Park. In 2012, the nonprofit arts education group Arts Central left the historic Goodwillie-Allen-Rademacher House next to the plaza because of concerns about safety.

“David Marchi, whose Crow’s Feet Commons now occupies the house, is concerned the plaza has become the epicenter for homelessness, drugs and other criminal behavior in Bend. Marchi posted a Facebook status Tuesday afternoon describing his personal and business experiences in the plaza, and also requested action from city government, Bend Police Department, the Family Kitchen and Bend citizens.”

The article went on to describe what Mr. Marchi related in this Facebook post:

“’The Mirror Pond Plaza and breezeway area of downtown Bend is a safe haven for heroin dealers/users, bike thieves, sex offenders and other criminal drifters,’ Marchi said in his Facebook post. ‘Every day, I fear for what I may see in the South Mirror Pond lot and I feel for the safety of the wholesome and hardworking women who work to open the cafe at 7 a.m. in the morning. Everyday, we walk by tourists who are passed out drunk (in) Drake Park and criminal vagabonds who are setting up hammocks in the parking lot. They all own aggressive dogs and (are) completely open to the fact that they wield weapons for which they have permits.’”

The people described are not the urban poor or those incapable of coping with modern society because of mental or physical disabilities. These are the detritus of a permissive society. By and large they are young, able-bodied and bone lazy. Many are into drugs and alcohol. Some enjoy flaunting societal norms, like urinating, defecating and copulating in public places, or blocking passage as they sit sullen with their aggressive animals. Some enjoy the fear they engender in others and particularly if that intimidation results in money in hopes of placating them. And something has to be done about it.

Mr. Marchi is quoted prophetically in the Bulletin article:

“’The post I originally wrote is just addressing some solutions that we’ve all suggested but nobody is acting on,’ he said Wednesday afternoon. ‘We all sat down with downtown business owners about what can be done to curb these issues. We’ve talked about environmental policing, doing some strategic landscaping. If we had hit it hard back in March then this issue we’re seeing in July would not be as prevalent. The reality of it is it that everyday I see this behavior. I see their behaviors and I know that it’s destructive.’”

It is not only destructive but down right dangerous for residents and visitors alike as evidenced by the number of these cretins who now carry and brandish weapons –mostly knives, machetes, and attack animals.

Bend depends on tourism first and foremost for its economic well being – everything from skiing, fly fishing, hiking and floating, to dining, accommodations and entertainment. Even the robust building and development industry thrives because those who have found enjoyment in Bend seek to make that enjoyment routine, if not permanent. Mr. Marchi’s warnings should be heeded. If Bend does not attack this problem quickly, the impact will be felt on its tourist industry with all of the ripple effects that come from ignoring problems.

Let’s recognize that this is a political problem – it isn’t a societal problem such as what we must do for the poor and the afflicted. The problem is whether the politicians will deal aggressively with this criminal element in order to protect its citizens or whether they will, like Portland, wring their hands in despair over the plight of this growing plague. Bend has a city election coming up in which every open seat on the city council is being contested. There is an opportunity to lock down the intent of these candidates in terms of how they will deal with this element and to, thereafter, hold them accountable.

So let me suggest a couple of things which can go a long way toward dealing with the problem.

  1. Active, aggressive and relentless enforcement of the loitering, panhandling and camping laws. The object is to deter this conduct and not to accommodate it. Keep them moving and do not to provide an alternative location. If an alternative location is necessary, give them a bus ticket to Portland where they will be welcomed with open arms. If the current laws are insufficient then they should be changed.
  2. Active, aggressive and relentless enforcement of the drug laws. Increasing the tax on marijuana (a demonstrable gateway drug) will provide a revenue source for stepped up enforcement of the ban on those drugs still deemed illegal. In instances where drug rehab and counseling are required, send the offenders to Portland for such treatment.
  3. Development of a program in which residents and tourists can purchase tokens to be given in lieu of cash. The tokens can be redeemed at soup kitchens and restaurants willing to participate but cannot be redeemed for cash. (St. Mary’s Cathedral, seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, which is located in the heart of Portland’s homeless district, has for years urged its congregants and its neighbors to do just that in conjunction with the Sisters of the Road Cafe nearby.) The point here is to deny them cash for drug and alcohol while tending to their actual needs for nourishment.

The Bulletin article noted that these type of resources are already available:

“Donna Burklo, part-time development director of Family Kitchen, said Wednesday it would be difficult to screen people during a two-hour meal service window each day, and who gets served food depends not on appearance, but behavior and need.

“’We figure if somebody comes here for a meal, they need a meal, so there’s not going to be any kind of screening process about whether or not they look hungry enough,’ she said. ‘That makes no sense. As long as their behavior while having a meal is safe, it’s OK. Everybody needs a meal. It’s a pretty basic thing that is a need. It’s not going to make a drug addict more compliant if they’re starving, too.’”

  1. Recruitment and training of a cadre of auxiliary law enforcement to be used during the summer tourist season. (Bend is blessed with cold weather and an abundance of snow during the winter that provides its own deterrent to this criminal element.) The training should focus on the “broken windows” concept successfully deployed in major urban areas. Minor offenses by these street thugs should have zero tolerance – get them up, get them moving, and get them gone. Protective gear, nightsticks, and pepper spray are probably sufficient for this auxiliary force. Radio contact with trained police should be sufficient in those instances where armed intervention is required – and the instances where armed intervention is required should diminish quickly as these miscreants begin to experience the hostility towards their choice of lifestyles.

And finally, if the politicians have a difficulty distinguishing between punks and people in need, then you probably need to get new politicians.