Every year, people experiencing homelessness are surveyed and counted by volunteers. The figures are sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and local partners use them to monitor population growth. According to local partners, there are about 1,800 people unsheltered in Salem, including people staying overnight in shelters, camping in tents, and living in their vehicles. Data for the 2021 Point in Time count has not been collected and usually begins in late January as local volunteers, homeless advocate groups, and non – profits partners organize street outreach teams to count Salem's unsheltered. Read more about the Point in Time Count on the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance Webpage.
How is the City responsible for our community's residents living without shelter?
Much like the rest of the U.S., Salem is experience rising levels of homelessness. The City of Salem strives to create a safe and livable community for all our residents, including people experiencing homelessness. There are many reasons a person may find themselves homeless. Contributing factors include limited access to mental health support, addiction, loss of wages or employment, and limited affordable housing. The City of Salem alone cannot solve homelessness in our community. We need to work together to design programs to help prevent homelessness, create more support for those transitioning to permanent housing, develop more affordable housing, and reduce barriers for those trying to get into housing and transitional or emergency shelter. Housing and homelessness are one of our City's priorities and part of the Council policy agenda.
Who else is working on homelessness in our community?
Organizations working to help unsheltered people include: Kindness Closet, Helping Hands, Community Action Agency, The Arches Project, Be Bold Street Ministries, Northwest Human Services, Church @ the Park, the Salem Housing Authority, and a host of additional advocates and volunteers. Shelters also provide some assistance, such as, the Union Gospel Mission which provides transportation for individuals who want to leave their park campsite and move to area shelters. Safe Sleep, the women's shelter operated by United Way, connects to unsheltered individuals through specialized street outreach teams. Easter Seals, Salvation Army, Center for Hope and Safety, St. Francis Shelter, Family Promise, and Community Action HOME Youth Services provide amenities at their shelter locations as well as in-person outreach services.
I have something I want to donate to the homeless. What is the best way to make donations – or volunteer to help?
There are many organizations in the City of Salem that accept monetary and tangible donations to support our local homeless population. The City supports this act of kindness but cautions against dropping off tangible goods at unauthorized donation locations, as these types of donations may contribute to the accrual of waste in our public spaces. We suggest reaching out or visiting the webpage before you head down with your donation items. (The list below is considered comprehensive but not exhaustive.)
What can the City do about garbage left in public spaces?
The City is focused on removing accumulated waste in City-owned areas and working with other private or public property owners in our community to remove waste; however, certain public spaces in question are not managed by the City. For example, the Oregon Department of Transportation manages our freeways and right of ways. The City of Salem and the Oregon Department of Transportation have worked together in recent months to manage cleanup projects and are following interim guidance set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relating to managing unsheltered populations during this time of COVID- 19 public health emergency. ODOT and the City are aware of individuals staging their belongings and sleeping under freeway passes.
A homeless person has set up a tent on my business or private property, what can I do?
You can take a proactive stance on keeping trespassers off your property by posting signs and maintaining your property perimeter. If an illegal encampment appears on your property, you have the right to ask the individuals to leave or contact The Salem Police non-emergency number for assistance 503 588 6123. To report health and welfare concerns about a homeless encampment or individual, you may reach out to Northwest Health and Human Services.
How much money does the City spend responding to unsheltered populations living in the parks?
The City has spent and continues to spend money and employee time on connecting our unhoused neighbors with appropriate shelters. The City helps fund the shelters and services that many of our unhoused neighbors need. The City, through its housing authority, provides housing to over 3,000 Salem residents. We also spend resources on cleaning up the debris at encampments, on the State of Oregon property at Interstate – 5 and Market Street right of way. We work closely with the Oregon Department of Transportation, the public agency responsible for the Market Street area and other areas with prominent homeless encampments, on cleanups. The state of Oregon will not require people sheltering on state rights of way to relocate during the pandemic in compliance with CDC guidance for encampments during COVID-19.
Who does the City work with to develop goals and monitor outcomes relating to homeless populations?
Several organizations are working to end and prevent homelessness in our region including the Mid- Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance, Helping Hands, Community Action Agency, The Arches Project, Be Bold Street Ministries, Northwest Human Services, Church @ the Park, Salem Housing Authority as well as many State and federal organizations. The City is constantly learning and planning with these partner agencies to define the problem and set goals, such as, increasing shelter capacity in Salem and increasing access to affordable housing.
How long will the City allow camping in our public parks?
To help reduce COVID-19 exposure in shelters and spaces that face constrained capacity, camping is allowed in developed areas of two parks, Wallace Marine and Cascades Gateway. Community partners estimate between 200-300 persons are currently staying at any given time in each park. The City, non-profit agencies, and volunteers have worked together to remove garbage, address criminal activity, and establish small, managed alternatives to sheltering in parks. Still, as City parks are not intended for human habitation and camping, City Council will need to approve a plan to carefully conclude our Park Camping program. Initial plans have begun to stimulate this conversation. According to recent staff reports, the earliest camping in our parks would end, would be June 2021.
What is the City doing to keep our City parks clean while temporary camping is allowed?
At the two parks where homeless camping is allowed, Wallace Marine Park and Cascades Gateway Park, we have dumpsters available for campers to put their trash in and they are emptied frequently by City of Salem Crews. The City is using a contractor to assist in cleaning up the large amounts of garbage and debris from abandoned campsites. Each park is getting a major clean-up once per month.
What is the City doing about excess trash because of people living near the Interstate and right of ways?
Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) manages our freeways and right of ways. We work directly with ODOT to monitor and report conditions and regularly support ODOT when extra clean up and security is needed. At this time, both agencies are following interim guidance set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relating to managing unsheltered populations during this time of COVID- 19 public health emergency. These guidelines make it more difficult to break up camps. Moving the encampments causes people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers, increasing the potential for infectious disease spread. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, camping along the state right of way is not safe, often causes environmental perils, and represents health and safety risks. The City recognizes these hazards and appreciates the public patience as we work with ODOT to mitigate the risk and eventually eliminate illegal camping and loitering when the public health emergency is over. We're at work locating alternative sheltering locations with the intent of safely transitioning to more sustainable alternatives.
What about open fire pits or building fires for warmth in our parks?
It is against the City code to light a campfire at a City park. Only fires within approved containers such as charcoal grills are allowed. At the urging of the Salem Fire Department, we are discouraging the delivery and consumption of firewood at both Wallace Marine Park and Cascades Gateway Park, and ask that people and agencies not deliver firewood to the parks.
Can homeless people receive tickets and citations for breaking the law?
It is not illegal to live in any community without shelter. Criminal behaviors that can be reported to Salem Police. Details surrounding those criminal behaviors include Criminal Behaviors SRC 95.125 Urinating, Defecating in Public, SRC 90.020 Consumption of Alcohol in Certain Places, SRC 94.195 Possession of Alcohol in Parks, SRC 94.190 Overnight Use of Parks (Illegal Camping),SRC 95.550/ORS164.245 Trespass, SRC 95.120/ORS 166.025 Disorderly Conduct, and Various narcotics possession offenses. The temporary allowance of camping in our parks is related to the emergency declaration involving the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about this this decision. Other information about camping in public spaces around our City is available here.
How are decisions made about programs and support for the homeless in our area?