SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Since the public camping ban took effect in Salem, many people congregated outside the former Nordstrom location. But Thursday morning they picked up their belongings and moved across the street when a city-hired company arrived to sanitize the sidewalks.
Sanitation crews powerwashed Center Street, sweeping and scrubbing the sidewalk and walls. City officials said they’ve received complaints from residents about their difficulty walking by the unsanitary conditions, which included garbage and waste.
The sidewalk was temporarily closed during the cleanup.
Don Rogers, who has been staying on Center Street, told KOIN 6 News he’s happy about the clean up.
“The cleaning is a good idea. It needs it for our safety’s sake,” he said. “The germs, so we don’t continue to get the flu and other viruses.”
He also said he agrees with the city’s stance.
“We don’t have the right to be here. This is someone’s livelihood, to bring in business. Did we ask for permission? No, we did not.”
Jimmy Jones, the Executive Director of Community Action, told KOIN 6 News they track about 1000 people who live unsheltered. Of those, about 330 were concentrated in the downtown Salem area.
“Many have gone to other places in and around the city,” Jones said. “There are still about 100 to 125 who remained in the downtown. Most are people who suffer from mental illness, people who have mobility issues. They can’t go far because that’s where they get all their resources, food, access to the warming shelter.”
And he added they’re not violating the camping ban because they’re not putting up a tent or a structure.
“They are in a vulnerable situation because they have chosen to sit and lie on the sidewalk.”
Cleaning the sidewalks was necessary, he said, “because there was so much waste that had accumulated in those areas.”
The camping ban took effect in late December and prohibits camping on public property and right-of-ways. City officials said they continue to work with community partners to find shelter, including beds each night for sleeping.
On Friday, workers will continue to clean up Liberty Street.
Officials aren’t kidding themselves — they know people will move back in soon. “All of us expect that,” Jones said. “They will just move back across the street when the cleaning activities are done.”
They’re working to find more shelter for people and have emergency beds and a warming network for as many as 240 people.
“It’s not that we don’t have housing available,” he said. “We are continuing to work that resource aggressively. “The problem, like in every community, we have a bucket to put out a forest fire.”
KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.