'Rainbow' visitors upset downtown Bend businesses

Merchants say group members harass them, customers

Transient group causes stir in downtown Bend

BEND, Ore. - Bond Street Market sales associate Valerie Hagen says she is used to seeing homeless people hanging out around downtown Bend--many of them are regular customers.

Many are friendly are respectful, she said Thursday -- but this past week has been a nightmare.

"There's been a lot of fighting, confronting our customers, coming in and trying to buy items without cash," Hagen said.

Hagen and several downtown business owners say they've noticed a new group of people hanging around.

"It's been kind of scary," Hagen said. "I've had to confront people and ask them to leave, and they've been quite angry."

Police say the group is from out of town, and stopped in Bend before they head to a Rainbow Family Gathering in Montana. It's an annual festival in the woods attracting thousands of a self-described counter-cultural and peaceful participants.

But about a dozen shop owners  NewsChannel 21 spoke with Thursday said their presence has been affecting business. They describe many in the group as cursing, making catcalls, and being aggressive and rude to anyone who walks by.

Several women who own businesses, including Hagen, said they've felt uncomfortable going to and from work.

"I'm alone and it's night, and I have to ask them to leave, and maybe they've been drinking already? And it's a little scary," Hagen said.

Police have received dozens of calls from businesses and patrons. But when it's limited to things protected by freedom of speech, police say there's nothing they can do.

"We want to protect everybody's rights," said Lt. Chris Carney. "Regardless what group you're part of, you have the right of freedom of expression."

But Hagen says her rights to feel safe are diminished, and until the group is gone, she'll be looking over her shoulder when she leaves the store each night.

Police said they have slightly increased police presence in the downtown area. Some group members said they plan to leave Bend on Friday.

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