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Central Oregon homelessness director to resign

 A tent. In the background are other tents, a vehicle, and rubbish.
Emily Cureton Cook
A tent pitched near U.S. Hwy. 97 in Bend in 2021. Cheyenne Purrington, director of the Coordinance Houseless Response Office, resigned from her position Tuesday. She cited a lack of vision among area elected officials as part of the reason.

The director of Central Oregon’s first organized, regional response to homelessness announced her resignation on Tuesday and leveled criticisms at how local governments are grappling with a statewide housing crisis.

Cheyenne Purrington served for just eight months as director of the Coordinated Houseless Response Office, jointly run by Deschutes County and the City of Bend.

In a five-page memo sent to the county, Purrington laid out several concerns about how the office was established and said it was inhibited from creating solutions by a lack of consensus among elected leaders.

n particular, she said local governments focusing on removing illegal campsites distracted from her office providing solutions to those in need.

“I continue to feel conflicted both personally and professionally by efforts underway to remove hundreds of vulnerable unsheltered residents from public lands — mostly without sufficient planning, resource allocations, or service provision,” Purrington said in her memo.

Bend and Deschutes County have planned multiple sweeps of illegal encampments, Purrington said, possibly uprooting the hundreds of people living in these areas.

Bend recently passed a controversial camping ordinance that, among other things, requires unhoused people to move campsites every 24 hours and prevents large groups of tents.

While the city and county have cracked down on camping, elected officials from both agencies have butted heads on how to allocate state funding. This year, the Oregon Legislature allocated nearly $14 million to Central Oregon to fund new shelter spaces and other services. The spending comes after Governor Tina Kotek declared a state of emergency in January.

Purrington’s annual salary was $148,811, a county spokesperson said. After her resignation takes effect June 9, it’s unclear what lies ahead for the broader effort to coordinate Central Oregon’s local governments on responding to homelessness.

Deschutes County Deputy Administrator Erik Kropp said in a statement that the Coordinated Houseless Response Office’s board, which is made up of county and city elected leaders, will meet to discuss the next steps.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting