I was part of some talks recently that included the topic of "values." Anytime values are discussed things typically get heated if people are being honest or typically things fall silent if folks aren't being real with each other. Or, too many people share the same values in a room and additional perspective should be gained if important decisions are to be made on behalf of a diversity of individuals.
The values that came up in the discussion were all around Central Oregon and its nature-loving image. Everyone here in Central Oregon apparently love to ski, kayak, fly-fish, trail-run, mountain bike, be energy-friendly, be laid back, drink good beer, and bleed innovation. Ask anyone, right? Well, maybe. If I am not mistaken any of these activities cost money. To get to the mountain or take a drive anywhere in Central Oregon you've got to fill up your energy-efficient hybrid before you head out. And, if you don't own a hybrid, or if you don't own a car at all, well, one can be a little stuck.
Without question consistent contact with nature has huge wellness benefits. And, without question, a lack of access to natural resources has negative effects on human wellness. So what's the big deal? Well, around 11% of the population in Central Oregon live at or below the poverty line (partnershiptoendpoverty.org). While this statistic remains below the national level (15%), it doesn't change the fact that 1 in 9 individuals are poor in our region. Although dated (2009), this same resource also reports that nearly 2237 people (including 876 children) in Central Oregon were homeless. I wonder if these same folks back in 2009 were able to benefit from Central Oregon's amazing nature-based culture. It's possible, but typically when one's basic needs are not met, people can't focus on anything else other than surviving.
So, what do we do? I don't claim to know the answer to that question; I just think it's important to acknowledge that not everyone has the privilege (or luxury) to live and value the stereotypical Bend lifestyle. I think it's also important to let visitors know our reality: while we may have one of the most beautiful regions in the country and we have a unique, fun culture, we have just as many challenges as other cities with poverty.
Let's not forget the needs and values of ALL our population here in Central Oregon; together let's find ways of promoting those voices that are often under-heard and under-valued.