Salem homeless leave Capitol camp, ‘have nowhere to go’

Marion County

New Salem ordinance took effect December 16

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Homeless men and woman illegally camping outside the State Capitol in Salem left after they were told to pack up and leave the Capitol Mall by Oregon State Police troopers and officials from the Oregon State Parks Department.

Earlier Monday OSP officials said they’re looking for “a reasonable and compassionate alternative to the illegal camping at the Capitol” and were working with the Oregon State Parks and homeless advocates “to identify options and avoid enforcement actions.”

“The state troopers came and said we had to be out in 2 hours,” Destiny Rios told KOIN 6 News.

Homeless campers set up tents on the Capitol Mall in Salem, December 23, 2019 (KOIN)

Dozens of people began camping there after a new ordinance took effect in Salem forcing homeless campers to move from their tents downtown. The ordinance, which bans people from camping and leaving personal property on the public right-of-way, took effect December 16. Two days later officials asked campers to voluntarily move or they would be cited.

That day, authorities said the campers were complying. Many simply moved across the street to Marion Square Park.

“Just because we’re homeless we’re human beings and at the same time it’s like we can help each other,” homeless man John said. “What are they going to do, just shoo us out of the city?”

Many of the homeless said they have nowhere else to go and have no idea where they’ll sleep at night.

Destiny Rios is homeless in Salem, December 23, 2019 (KOIN)

“What are we supposed to do? We have nowhere to go and not all of us can stay in shelters,” Rios told KOIN 6 News. “There’s not enough room so what are we supposed to do?”

The City of Salem admits they’re still looking for solutions for temporary shelter. Right now, warming shelters only open at night when the temperature dips to 32 degrees. The city and homeless advocates are trying to open another kind of shelter which would operate between January 1 and March 31 regardless of the temperature.

But that hasn’t come together yet.

“We’re tired of moving, you know? They bounce us from place to place to place, so what are we supposed to do?”

Destiny Rios is among the dozens of homeless campers forced to move by a new Salem ordinance, December 23, 2019 (KOIN)

The director of Community Action Agency, a non-profit working on this, said they’re having a hard time finding space to rent for the shelter. At the very least they’re hoping to offer 80 beds — but they’d like to have 200 beds.

Volunteers were out at the Capitol Mall on Monday handing out dry clothing and doing what they could to help.

“We don’t have any place we can tell them to be,” volunteer Lynelle Wilcox said, “but you can’t be here, here, here. So it’s like kick the can from one place to another.”

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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