Bend’s Juniper Ridge Encampment Faces Change Amid Homelessness Crisis


Just outside Bend, Oregon, along Highway 97, sits the Juniper Ridge homeless encampment, sometimes referred to by locals as “Dirtworld.” It’s become so well-known that it has its own Google business page.

When approaching the encampment, numerous campers can be seen behind rock walls, dispersed throughout the forest. Nearby, a burnt-out vehicle lies on its side next to a camper, surrounded by debris including several porta-potties, a dumpster, and a supply of drinking water. Dirt roads connect makeshift camps, with vehicles arranged in a circle, forming a makeshift fortress shielded by a wall of tarp. The ground is littered with broken glass, garbage, and spray-painted signs.

Last year, a man died there after a dog attack, as reported by The Bulletin. Additionally, a nearby horse boarding business closed down because it became too dangerous for customers to ride, according to KTVZ.

“The crimes reported in these encampments cover the full range and include assaults, weapons offenses, sexual assaults, arsons, and homicide,” said Deschutes County District Attorney Steve Gunnels.

Rural Oregon has been grappling with homelessness and the resulting crime for years, a situation exacerbated by radical Democrat housing and drug policies. However, with pending reforms and an upcoming Supreme Court ruling this June, some local leaders are optimistic about a potential improvement.

Anticipating Change

Deschutes County, Oregon’s fastest-growing county, has struggled with homelessness for years, especially due to tourism and outdoor recreation, according to Gunnels. Located in rural, conservative Central Oregon, the county has seen homelessness steadily increasing since 2015.

Gunnels hopes the homeless crisis will improve with two developments: the Supreme Court’s expected ruling in Grants Pass v. Johnson, potentially overturning a previous decision protecting the “unavoidable consequences” of homelessness, and the reform of Measure 110, which in 2020 gave Oregon the nation’s most permissive drug laws.

Communities across America have experienced rising rates of homelessness, with a 12 percent overall increase from 2022 to 2023, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Oregon, the number increased 16 percent from 2022 to 2023, and in Central Oregon, it increased 28 percent.

This is despite President Joe Biden’s ambitious goal announced in 2022 to reduce homelessness 25 percent by 2025. Biden’s strategy includes the unproven (and often failed) “housing first” policy, which aims to “prevent people from becoming homeless, address inequities that disproportionately impact underserved communities, including people of color and other marginalized groups, and help cities and states reduce unsheltered homelessness.”

The Cause

Gunnels said Central Oregon’s struggle with homelessness developed with a trend in the American West since 2018, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Martin v. Boise that the state cannot criminalize “unavoidable consequences of being homeless” like “sitting, lying, or sleeping on streets.”

Martin v. Boise has significantly limited local government’s ability to manage public ‘camping,’ leading to the establishment of homeless encampments that have become very unhealthy, dangerous places to live or to encounter,” Gunnels said in an email.

Measure 110, which removed penalties for the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl, has also largely contributed to the region’s homeless crisis.

“Measure 110 has contributed to rampant drug use and associated crime, including assaults, weapons offenses, sexual assaults, arson, and homicide in homeless encampments in Oregon,” Gunnels said. “Case law limiting the authority of local jurisdictions to effectively address and move homeless encampments has further exacerbated these problems.”

The Crisis

Central Oregon has seen homelessness increase from 594 homeless people in 2015 to 1,799 homeless people in 2024, according to the nonprofit Homeless Leadership Coalition. Most homeless people have lived in the rapidly growing area for over 10 years.

The area has a number of homeless encampments, including two large ones near Bend, the most populous and liberal city east of the Cascades, and another in the smaller, more conservative city of Redmond.

Outside of Bend are the China Hat Road encampment and the aforementioned Juniper Ridge encampment. Jacob Larsen, the City of Bend public information officer, noted that the camps lie outside city limits, making them the responsibility of agencies such as Deschutes County and the U.S. Forest Service.

At the China Hat Road encampment, violent crime has troubled nearby residents for years, driving some to leave the state, reports KTVZ. Police arrested a man last year for fentanyl trafficking, according to KBND.

Meth and fentanyl are common in the camps, Gunnels said, with meth causing violence and fentanyl leading to overdoses.

Outside Redmond, an encampment off Antler Ave., just north of the regional airport, saw tents and debris so close to the runways that the Federal Aviation Administration ordered the city to clear the land and erect safety fences.

This Antler Ave. encampment, known as “Dirt World Two,” even has its own Facebook page, where residents were warned in February about nearby police: “Cops are on Antler.”

In 2023, Fire Marshal Tom Mooney of Redmond Fire and Rescue documented emergency responses to homeless areas of the fire district. The department dealt with 44 injuries, including emergency medical calls and vehicle accidents with injuries, and 33 fires last year.

“These are very dangerous places for the people who live there and for law enforcement to enter,” Gunnels said. “Law enforcement typically goes in en masse with at least multiple officers or deputies for safety.”

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Wall noted in an email that people have been living in these areas for a while, but the population in encampments has noticeably increased over the last five years. The sheriff’s office started using school resource deputies to patrol encampments during the summer, Wall said.

“We receive all types of calls for service,” Wall stated. “From animal complaints to felonious assaults, and everything in between.”

Hope for Improvement

The Supreme Court may soon overturn Martin v. Boise. Justices heard arguments for Grants Pass v. Johnson in April, and a decision is expected this term.

The case originated in 2018 when Grants Pass, a small city in conservative Southern Oregon, began ticketing people sleeping in public. Plaintiffs argued that local bans on homeless camping were “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment, citing Martin v. Boise. If the Supreme Court sides with Grants Pass, it would permit governments to enforce prohibitions on public camping.

“The hope is that the Supreme Court’s decision in Grants Pass v. Johnson will provide clarity as to the scope of local government’s power to effectively deal with this significant public health and safety challenge,” Gunnels said.

Larsen mentioned that city officials believe local code will remain no matter the outcome.

“Bend does not ban camping, but imposes reasonable regulations on the time, place, and manner of camping in public places, as allowed under any of the arguments made before the Supreme Court,” Larsen said in an email.

Measure 110 could also find moderation with Oregon HB 4002. The bill increases the penalty for unlawful possession or delivery of a controlled substance, establishes a pipeline to rehabilitation, and bolsters addiction and mental health services. Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek signed the measure on April 1, and it takes effect on September 1.

Gunnels said the bill would allow police to discourage drug use and encampments.

“HB 4002 will re-introduce accountability and give law enforcement the ability to intervene and direct drug users to treatment. If those drug users fail to follow through with treatment, prosecutors and the courts will be able to compel treatment and failure will result in jail,” Gunnels said. “HB 4002 will not solve the current mental health, drug abuse, and homelessness crises in Oregon, but it is a step in the right direction for public safety.”

Larsen stated that the city of Bend supports the bill but sees drug addiction as a separate issue from homelessness.

“The city is optimistic that the additional tools created by HB 4002 will curb the impact of addiction in our community,” Larsen said. “Ultimately, homelessness is a housing issue, not a drug issue.”

Multiple studies show that homelessness and drug use are often interconnected.

These policy changes, if successful, have the potential to establish a minimum standard for addressing rising rates of homelessness nationwide. Time will tell.

Logan Washburn
Logan Washburn
Logan Washburn is an intern reporter covering Oregon and Washington. He is studying politics and journalism at Hillsdale College, where he writes for the school paper, The Collegian. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The Federalist.

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