Cold-weather shelters preparing for Central Oregon winter

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Kathleen “Kaat” Snyder Ryan moved to Bend in 2011 to live near her brother and get away from the abusive ex she refers to as her “insignificant other.” But it wasn’t long before the ex joined her, and Ryan, 60, soon found herself homeless and unemployed.

“We either stayed in motels, under bridge underpasses or in my car,” she said. “It was horrible, being out in the cold.”

Ryan began shoplifting and was arrested five times on theft charges between 2013 and 2015, according to online court records. She was jailed in February 2016 and sent to Bethlehem Inn, a homeless shelter in Bend, when she was released on parole in September.

At first, Ryan said, she was ready to bolt. She kept her backpack on during her whole first day at the shelter.

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“I thought, ‘Oh, heavens. It’s a homeless shelter,’” Ryan said. “But it’s been more than just a bed and a meal and clothing. They’ve helped me out so much.”

But for homeless women who rely on places like Bethlehem Inn, surviving the coming winter could be a significant challenge. The social services safety net that helped Ryan, and others like her, is fragile, and the loss of one place — this winter, it’s Bend Church — means many them won’t have a warm place to stay.

The Methodist church downtown was a “low-barrier” shelter, meaning homeless women in Bend who aren’t ready or able to give up drugs, alcohol or non-service animals could stay there — as long as they behaved, they were welcome. The church isn’t hosting homeless women and children this winter because church officials no longer felt comfortable doing that.

Bend Church sheltered 92 women, 14 children and between 14 and 16 dogs last winter. It allowed pets and didn’t screen for alcohol or drugs.

Stacey Witte, director of homeless outreach at the church, has been looking for a new location since March and has been unable to find one. She said she’s already been getting calls from St. Charles Bend and the Deschutes County jail, asking if the shelter is open so transient former patients and inmates have a place to go.

“It’s such a shame because it’s so needed,” Witte said. “I just think about all the schools, all the buildings that are empty at night.”

A city of Bend weather emergency declared Nov. 3 allows alternative shelters, like the one hosted last year at Bend Church, to…

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