Salem Responds to Camping Activity Concerns

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UPDATED December 20, 2019

The City of Salem is continuing to look for ways to meet immediate shelter needs for the city’s unsheltered residents, said Kristin Retherford, acting city manager.

"Existing warming shelters don't have the capacity to meet the needs of people who have been camping; however, they will continue to operate under their usual cold-weather schedule," Retherford said.

In the meantime, the City is continuing to enforce, on a complaint-driven basis, new laws effective Dec. 16 prohibiting camping and abandoned property on public right-of-way.

"In the meantime, volunteers are still needed through a variety of organizations to help our unsheltered neighbors," she said.  To help those in need, you can give your time at a shelter or meal site, your change, or food and personal items to groups and organizations helping those in need in our community.

"Our primary concern is public health and safety for all of our residents, including those without shelter," Retherford said.  She asked the community not to deliver clothing or food items directly to campers. No matter the size, contributions will go the furthest toward making a difference if they are donated through these established organizations.

When Salem Police are called upon to enforce the new camping rules, they also try to connect individuals with services that can help them. So far, compliance has been voluntary and no citations have been issued. Our goal is continued voluntary compliance. City representatives understand that citations or arrests aren't a long-term solution.

If you have a concern about camping in your neighborhood, you can report this and other concerns to the City using this link.

Seeking proactive solutions

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.

On December 9, Salem’s City Council authorized more than $200,000 to open existing warming shelter locations Church at the Park and First Presbyterian beginning January 1 through the end of March 2020.  With this funding, ARCHES expects to provide additional beds to those experiencing homelessness in our community by keeping warming shelters open with a combination of new hires and volunteer support. 

With more services in place like toilet facilities, safe and secure storage for personal belongings, and shower facilities in the downtown area, and increasing access to affordable housing throughout our community, the Sidewalks and Public Spaces Ordinance  aims to ensure all of Salem remains welcoming to all visitors by keeping sidewalks and public spaces clean.

The new rule applies city-wide, not just downtown.  The ordinance restricts camping all day and all night on public property. Camping means establishing or maintaining a "campsite" as a temporary place to live. "Campsite" means a tent, or structure consisting of a top or roof any other upper covering, and enclosed on one or more sides, that is of sufficient size for a person to fit underneath or inside.

The rule does not prohibit someone from keeping their personal belongings on public property, if the belongings are attended. Unattended personal property left on the sidewalk for more than two hours is a violation of the rule, and is subject to being removed by the City and held for retrieval by the owner.

 A person may protect themselves or their belongings against the elements by utilizing a tarp or other covering, as long as the person does not establish or maintain a campsite.

In 2018, a task force looked at specific impacts of homelessness in downtown Salem including perceptions of safety, trash, health and hygiene.  Work is underway to provide toilet facilities 24/7, safe and secure storage for personal belongings, and shower facilities in the downtown area.  These impacts, however, are being seen throughout our community along our streets, sidewalks, and public spaces.

With facilities in place and Salem's efforts to increase access to affordable housing in our community, the new rule aims to ensure all of Salem remains welcoming to all visitors.

What does the proposed City of Salem Sidewalks and Public Space Ordinance restrict?

  • Camping on public property all day or all night.

  • Leaving personal property unattended on the sidewalk all day or night for more than 2 hours.

What is the purpose of the proposed 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 proposed Sidewalks and Public Spaces Ordinance apply to everyone?

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

If homeless individuals can't camp on the sidewalks or in public spaces, where will they go?

  • Over the past several years, due to the City Council’s priority of addressing our community's homeless, a variety of options are available for food, shelter, storage, and other personal needs. 

  • Available services include ARCHES, Union Gospel Mission, Salvation Army,  or churches or social service agencies. These organizations are supported by volunteers, grants and donations.
  • Individuals may remain on the sidewalk, and may even use blankets, sleeping bags, and tarps to protect themselves against the elements – without establishing a campsite.

Will offenders be jailed?

  • Offenders will not be jailed for  simply being in violation of the conduct regulated by the ordinance.

What about Boise?

  • This new rule deals with camping on public property, and does not restrict anyone’s ability to be in public places.  This ordinance was written based on the 9th Circuit’s decision in Martin v. City of Boise and complies with the Court’s decision in that case.

  • See the Idaho news article for more information.

Our community's support is critical to helping the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Please donate to non-profit organizations, provide space for services, serve on volunteer boards, volunteer, invest in affordable housing, or rent an apartment to an at-risk tenant. Your help is vital and greatly appreciated.  To help those in need, please reconsider how you give

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