SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — During the pandemic, federal and state protocol was to not move homeless camps. But now that restrictions have lifted the Oregon Department of Transportation said they will remove illegal camps on their property.
ODOT said the City of Portland now takes care of homeless camp cleanups on state property but ODOT pays for it. The agency is likely to create the same plan for Eugene.
But in Salem, ODOT still sweeps the camps.
Beginning next week, ODOT will focus on 2 campsites they say create safety hazards for residents, drivers and businesses in Marion County. Two of the largest illegal camps on ODOT property are in the Salem-Keizer area.
The illegal camp at I-5 and Market Street has about 120 people. The other big camp is along Salem Parkway in Keizer. Removal notices have been posted and ODOT officials said it will take several days next week to clear the sites.
On clean up day, ODOT said they remove items, throw away trash and if something looks like it belongs to someone, they bag it up, tag it and hold it for 30 days at their maintenance facility to give people a chance to pick it up.
ODOT said they may have to close one lane of traffic, which could cause delays for motorists in the area next week.
Officials with both the City of Salem and ODOT said they will have a resource center set up in the Denny’s parking lot across the street to connect the homeless with immediate resources.
“We’re trying to get as many of these people hooked up with the social service agencies in the area and they are the ones that can provide the necessary assistance. So by doing that, we hope that we won’t have as many people returning,” said ODOT’s Lou Torres.
ODOT said they’ve also discussed putting up fences or other barriers in these areas to prevent the illegal camps in the future. And over the next few months the agency will be clearing smaller camps throughout the state.
“I think the impression sometimes is that we’re the big, insensitive cold-hearted transportation agency, but we take things very deliberately,” Torres said. “We also understand the circumstances that these people are going through. And we take our time making sure that they get the proper services that might be able to, they might be able to access.”
While the Union Gospel Mission men’s shelter is slated to open next week, Salem is in desperate need of a temporary safe place for women and kids.
The City of Salem is working to create more permanent shelter space for 148 people this year. Once the real estate deal is finalized, an indoor shelter should be up and running within 3 months.
But in the meantime, the City of Salem is looking for anyone — businesses, individuals or organizations — that have a building suitable to house women and children for 30 to 90 days. City officials would offer a stipend. Officials need the space and said they will take care of the management.
Anyone who wants more information should contact Gretchen Bennett by email: firstname.lastname@example.org