Salem Camping Rules Explained

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Check the City's COVID-19 information center for changes affecting this program.

Together with community leaders, business and property owners, service providers, residents, and advocates for the homeless, the City is working to reduce homelessness and develop proactive solutions to the complex problems that lead to homelessness in our community.   As part of that work, we connect with people in crisis every day and offer ways to connect to help and services available in our community.  Sometimes, people and their belongings collect on sidewalks and in public spaces.  

Here’s some background on how our community is responding to these situations. 

Sidewalks and Public Spaces

Salem’s sidewalks city-wide are intended to be welcoming to all visitors, clean, and free of debris.  Keeping sidewalks and public spaces clean helps the overall appearance and vitality of city, particularly in commercial areas.  Business owners, their employees, and their patrons may also feel safer using the sidewalks in all areas of the city.

People are not allowed to establish a campsite or get in the way of other people on Salem’s sidewalks.  The City becomes involved when people are camping on the sidewalks or if personal belongings are left unattended for more than two hours.  City staff and area businesses work to keep the sidewalks clean and usable at all times.  And, with the Sidewalks and Public Spaces Ordinance in place, we can make contact with those in need and help direct them to the appropriate shelters or service. It also gives the City a tool to use when unsightly and unsanitary temporary structures are being used on the sidewalks, or when individuals establish a presence or camp in front of a business that detracts from or deters visitors to the business through their behavior, trash, or waste.
What should I do if I see a campsite?
  • If you are witnessing a concern related to public safety or violence, please reach out immediately to 9-1-1.
  • If there is no immediate safety concern, report your concerns through our online portal.  If an unauthorized “campsite” is reported to the City and it is found to violate the Ordinance, our outreach partners,  including Salem Police will be notified. These partners make regular contact with campers and work proactively to find alternative solutions to a sidewalk living space. 
  • If you are comfortable, get to know the people living on the streets in your area and treat them like any neighbor.  Avoid perpetuating stereotypes, stigma, and myths. People experiencing homelessness are not defined by their housing status. It’s often temporary, and it’s possible they’ve sought housing and/or shelter and there was none available. 

When is it OK to set up seating in the public right of way? 

Temporary seating may be set up for medical emergencies, seating for persons with physical disabilities, strollers, sidewalk cafes, attending a parade or other special event, sitting in a chair or bench, waiting for the bus, or other City-permitted People may use the City’s sidewalk, may have many or all belongings with them, and may use blankets and tarps to protect themselves against the elements.  
What is the purpose of the Sidewalks and Public Space Ordinance?
  • Keeping sidewalks and public spaces clean helps the overall appearance and vitality of city, particularly in commercial areas.  Business owners, their employees, and their patrons may also feel more safe using the sidewalks in all areas of the city.

  • With the ordinance in place, Salem Police can make contact with those in need and help direct them to the appropriate shelters or service. It also gives Salem Police a tool to use when unsightly and unsanitary temporary structures are being used on the sidewalks, or when individuals establish a presence or camp in front of a business that detracts from or deters visitors to the business through their behavior, trash, or waste.

Does the Sidewalks and Public Spaces Ordinance apply to everyone?

  • Yes.  All laws must be applied and enforced uniformly.

What about camping near the freeway 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 campers. 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.

What can I do to help?
No matter the size, your contributions will go the furthest towards making a difference when you donate through established organizations. You can play an integral role in improving the lives of individuals, while helping your community.

  • Salem’s service providers know how to help our homeless neighbors. It’s what they do best. The more you support them, the more they can help people get into stable housing.
  • This winter volunteer your time with the Salem Warming Center Network, ARCHES, Union Gospel Mission, Salem Safe Park Network and other service providers in our community.
  • f you see something, say something. Connect to Northwest Human Services through their ‘outreach request’ part of their webpage. 

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8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
555 Liberty ST SE RM 220
Salem OR 97301
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