The Food and Sundries Distribution to the Homeless Community Task Force will hold the first of three meetings on Feb. 21, 2019. The task force's goal is to find ways to allow distribution of food and other charitable donations to the homeless population in Salem parks while significantly minimizing the impact to the properties and its users. It will also identify alternative distribution locations for these programs. It is not the intent of this task force to allow, or find ways to allow, distributions in areas posted for no trespassing. Subsequent meetings are scheduled for Feb. 28 and Mar. 7. A fourth meeting will be scheduled if necessary. All meetings begin at 6 p.m., and will take place in Room 325 of the Salem Civic Center, 555 Liberty Street SE.
On Jan.28, 2019, the Salem City Council appointed representatives from social service agencies, homeless advocates, neighborhood associations, Salem Parks and Advisory Board, and city staff to the 15-member task force. It was created in response to continuing impacts to an area under the Marion Street Bridge where distributions were taking place.
The task force meetings will be open to the public and opportunity to provide public comment will be provided. However, the task force will not hold a public hearing. Public comment will also be invited when and if the recommendations are scheduled for formal adoption by the City.
Food and sundries distribution at Marion Square Park has occurred for many years. The area under the Marion Street Bridge adjacent to Marion Square Park has been a focal point for distributions since 2015. The distributions created significant litter and property damage at Riverfront Park. In Nov. 2018, the City cleaned and sanitized the area under the bridge and provided trash receptacles and picnic tables. Over time, the area was overrun with urban camping. On January 15, 2019, the area was cleaned and posted no trespassing. Cleanup required removal of 16 dump truck loads of garbage. Due to the continuing impacts to the park, the City stopped issuing food distribution permits, and canceled existing permits. Public Works Department staff committed to convene a group of stakeholders to discuss the issue and see if a solution can be developed that assists the homeless and reduces —or eliminates—the impacts to the parks system.