Downtown Bend businesses say transient issues out of hand

Some city councilors want concerns tackled now

Downtown Bend Troubles

BEND, Ore. - Downtown Bend draws people from all walks of life, including transients, and some of them have been causing a growing number of problems, business owners say.

Kathryn Rocheleau, who owns the Austin Street Tacos cart, is affected by the issue. 

"They've come up to me and asked for free food, which I don't give them," she said Monday. "I've had them steal my recycle on several occasions, I've had them unplug my cart and I actually have evidence of them trying to get into my cart."

At a recent City Council meeting, several people took to the podium to share their frustrating experiences in downtown Bend.

A statement from the owner of the coffee shop Bellatazza was read, describing a series of incidents, including knife fights, a couple having sex in the breezeway, needles found in the garbage enclosures in the Mirror Pond South parking lot, and feces smeared on a shop window.

Some members of the council, including Bill Moselye, say it's time to get serious.

"So the police are just taking a kind of posture against being very strong in their enforcement," he said. "And beyond that the council, at least last year, was reluctant to take on this issue. They mainly treated it as a mental illness issue."

While there are efforts to complete a crisis center where people using alcohol or drugs can get sober, and also issues with court rulings limiting what cities can do in terms of panhandlers or transients, some councilors say there's still more that can be done, sooner.

"The idea that we're going to wait for those solutions to exist before we can have a safe downtown is not reasonable," Moseley said. 

Mayor Casey Roats also thinks more needs to be done.

"Talk to police officers who work down here. They say there is a good number of people who simply choose to be down here, who do, in fact, who do have other places to go," Roats said.

"There's a difference from people who are truly mentally ill and homeless and people who do have other choices but are just coming to infringe on our civil liberties and peace," he said.

One common theme: Several businesses say they want to see more police officers downtown, especially in the back alleys.

"I do see them out on Wall Street. and Bond Street, but I don't see them back here, at least not in my hours of operation," Rocheleau said.

The Bend Police Department is currently facing a shortage of patrol officers. Between hiring and training, patrol teams are down 15 to 20 officers.

For some people, including David Marchi, the owner of Crows Feet Commons, this entire downtown issue is nothing new. 

"Generally, they're harmless, and they're just down on their luck, but it's like a bad bear. They are being fed, so like a bear that continually turns over your trash can, there's a reason why. Put your trash away," he said. 

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