Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022 @ 3:14 p.m. / Homelessness, Oregon
Curry County Homelessness: Resident Urges Commissioners to Consider San Diego-Based 'Sunbreak Ranch' Model; Local Advocates Criticize Boice's Plan
A month after he proposed bussing homeless people who are “non-Curry residents” to larger communities with more resources, Commissioner Court Boice introduced his colleagues to Gold Beach resident Ellehue Freemon who offered another potential solution.
Freemon, who relocated to Curry County from Big Bear City, California, said he was traveling to the San Diego area this weekend to see Sunbreak Ranch.
Sunbreak Ranch offers temporary shelter to those that are homeless as well as social services such as mental health and drug rehabilitation counseling and vocational training away from the city. According to Freemon, Sunbreak Ranch’s founders want introduce its model “up and down the West Coast.”
Freemon, who said he was once homeless, said he will visit Sunbreak Ranch to determine if its model is possible for the State of Oregon, not just Curry County.
“Everything is well organized for every social service that you want,” Freemon said, adding that Sunbreak Ranch is looking for federal land on which to build its ranches. “As one gentleman said, we need services that can continue to not be labor intensive for taxpayers, that must continue on its own, and that’s what the program is about. Centralized location is the key.”
Freemon said he would report back to commissioners on what he learns about Sunbreak Ranch.
However, earlier this year commissioners rejected a request from the Curry County Homeless Coalition for $300,000 in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to purchase the old Ophir School to provide a place for those who are homeless away from the county’s population centers.
Located eight miles north of Gold Beach, that 7-and-a-half acre property could have sheltered up to 30 households with onsite child care and services provided through the county department of health and human services, said homeless coalition director Beth Barker-Hidalgo, a candidate for Chris Paasch’s seat on the Board of Commissioners.
“Over 100 people showed up to a meeting on Feb. 2 of this year and Court Boice reacted to that,” Barker-Hidalgo told the Wild Rivers Outpost.
At that Feb. 2 meeting, Boice motioned to appropriate “no county funds or American Rescue Plan funds to or for the Ophir school or any housing project specifically related to homeless,” according to meeting minutes. Paasch seconded that motion, according to the minutes.
“We have been stonewalled in every direction we’ve taken,” Barker-Hidalgo told the Outpost. “The possibilities were endless. I had a great vision and dreams for that property and we were ran out on a rail on that one.”
At the Board of Commissioners’ Sept. 21 meeting, Boice proposed “properly identifying” Curry families that are homeless through local churches, service providers and other residents and try to separate them out from “non-Curry residents.”
He then proposed providing incentives to the “non-Curry residents” to seek resources in more metropolitan areas such as Salem. If they volunteered to leave, those “non-Curry residents” would be required to sign a consent form and would be offered an incentive of $50 to board a bus leaving town and another $50 when they disembark at their destination.
On Wednesday, Barker-Hidalgo and other homelessness advocates, Mary Rowe and Diana Cooper, took issue with Boice's proposed solution, calling it “foolish, irresponsible and dangerous.”
Rowe pointed out that other jurisdictions have unhoused travelers from outside their areas coming into their communities because of the nationwide housing crisis. She also noted that the resources for homeless people in Salem are insufficient. She urged Boice and his colleagues to support local homelessness programs that already exist.
“Commissioner Boice, you are not a qualified expert in human services nor does our county have any human rights director as larger counties do,” Rowe said. “Please stop trying to create problems to address human services needs. You do not have the credentials or experience.”
According to Barker-Hidalgo, Oregon law states that establishing residency takes about six months. When her organization connects with clients, she said one of the questions asked is how long they’ve lived in Curry County. The data points the coalition collects are for six months, two years or five years or more, she said.
“If they’re less than six months, we ask them why they came and we collect that data,” Barker-Hidalgo said. “(We ask) if it’s environment, employment, family friend support — what was the reason you came to Curry?”
The Curry County Homeless Coalition also provides the means for those who are homeless to seek support elsewhere if that’s what they want, Barker-Hidalgo said. During the first three quarters of 2022, the organization’s Homeward Bound program moved 19 households out of Curry County.
The organization won’t move an individual until they’ve confirmed that there’s a shelter bed, rehabilitation provider or another system of support and care for the individual or family on the other end, she said.
“If we’re just moving them out of Curry, we’re not going to be part of that,” she said. “That’s just making it another community issue.”
On Wednesday, in addition to asking Freemon to speak to commissioners about Sunbreak Ranch, Boice proposed reimbursing St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church for the cost of a $220 bus ticket to Utah and a $260 ticket to Arizona for individuals who were homeless. He proposed having those dollars come out of American Rescue Plan Act dollars and also proposed using ARP dollars for public relations to “encourage private and foundation donations.”
He also suggested allocating American Rescue Plan dollars to develop the “Boice Homeless Plan” or to come up with an alternative or an amended plan.
Boice also expressed disappointment with those who opposed his plan.
“People read the plan and they develop nuances or opinions that are not in the plan and they communicate those,” he said. “And it’s really disappointing because they’re very capable of being part of the solution and joining forces but with differing views.”
Boice proposed holding a workshop on Nov. 2 to discuss homelessness further, saying “I don’t see the Board coming up with any plans that you are offering.”
Freemon said he opposed using taxpayer dollars to address homelessness, however, he said citizens and communities should fundraise to solve the problem.