Perhaps you’ve seen this sign on flyers at Cascade Swim Center or the RAPRD Activity Center. We at RAPRD take our role in the Redmond community seriously. Our programs are made possible by public support and we, in turn, make it possible for the public to participate in fitness and recreation offerings without the membership fees required by private clubs and gyms. Although our primary purpose is not social services, our role as a public entity dedicated to community wellness uniquely positions us to serve otherwise underserved populations.
We endeavor to never lose track of that sense of purpose. For example, our Adventure Quest before and after school program, and our Camp Adventure Quest summer program for kids provides healthy snacks to keep kids full of energy and playing hard all day. We offer scholarships so that community members have the opportunity to experience wellness and recreation programs regardless of ability to pay. We offer our Hero Pass to honor Redmond veterans and encourage them to participate in programs with their families.
Longer than all these programs, however, going back decades, we have offered use of our shower facilities at a low cost. We understand that, for many in Redmond, recreational and enrichment programming simply isn’t on the table. We want to do our part to make wellness a possibility even for those who must dedicate all their money, all their time, and all their energy just to getting by.
Around 1 in 5 of the homeless or housing insecure in Central Oregon is considered “unsheltered,” meaning camping, squatting, or living out of a car. Some families may “double up” with neighbors or friends, and some may live in RVs without utilities. Central Oregon’s homeless include veterans and the elderly, and more than 40% of Central Oregon’s homeless population are children under 18.
These numbers only scratch the surface. According to Chris Clouart, Managing Director at Bethlehem Inn homeless shelter in Bend, “the annual homeless count is a snapshot. It has a limited reach. If you are accessing the shelters, you are in a position to be counted, but if you are trying to keep your campsite from being found and taken away from you, you are probably off the radar.” Clouart estimates that the annual homeless count doesn’t capture a sizeable percentage of Central Oregon’s homeless. “The count is probably inaccurate by about a third,” he says.
Homelessness increases in the summer as an influx of hard-working people move to the area to fill the seasonal jobs that tourism and construction bring to the area. With housing prices high and climbing, and a very tight rental market, these people might have regular jobs but no place to live. They’re filling a needed gap in the workforce, trying to do jobs that keep Central Oregon’s economy humming in the summers, but they don’t have access to something as basic as showers or running water. They don’t fit the stereotypical image most people have of a homeless person, and in fact, don’t see themselves that way. “They’re living out of their car, so they aren’t homeless in their own eyes,” Clouart explains. They’re a hard working man or woman who says “well, I’m not homeless, I just can’t find housing.’” This mindset means that people who are working, but unsheltered may not seek help from local resources.
For people in this situation, “The most critical issues are the issues of hygiene,” Clouart explains, “Running water just seems like such a natural thing to most people. You don’t realize what a necessary thing it is until you don’t have it.”
At RAPRD, we recognize water as a force for wellness. We see it in our aqua fitness classes and in water therapy for patrons with injuries or disabilities. Water can be restorative. A shower is more than just shampoo. A shower is a moment of peace, of independence, of purification. “To be able to say ‘I feel clean,’” Clouart describes, “what an emotional boost that can be to someone.” Access to shower facilities improves mental and physical well-being, can restore confidence, and helps job applicants maintain a professional appearance.
For such a simple thing that most of us take for granted, the impact is significant. Clouart says, “If you talk to someone who has gone several weeks without a shower and you ask them how they feel, they’ll say ‘I feel grubby, I feel itchy, I feel scratchy, I don’t feel good.’ And then they take the shower and they can say ‘I feel good.’ So you’re not just talking about physical hygiene, but mental hygiene as well.”
In partnership with the Redmond Library, RAPRD offers a limited number of free showers to housing insecure individuals every month. The temperature extremes we experience in Central Oregon mean our winters are bitterly cold and our summers oppressively hot; both potentially dangerous for those without sufficient shelter. In anticipation of another hot summer, our April Showers fundraising campaign will support this program to continue to make free showers available to those who need them.