Salem makes progress on homeless issues, but more to be done

Marion County

City promising a micro-shelter in West Salem

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — The City of Salem said they’re making steps on the solutions they promised regarding unmanaged homeless camps in 2 city parks that got out of hand during the pandemic. But officials said they’re facing resistance from residents, after getting a flood of public testimony in opposition to a proposed village site in the West Ward.

Salem is taking a different and urgent approach to their homeless crisis. They’re promising another micro-shelter community like 2 others already operating in North Salem.

Gretchen Bennett, the City of Salem Homeless liaison, October 7, 2021 (KOIN)

But residents in West Salem say communication was non-existent before the city recently announced their latest proposal — a lot along Wallace Road next door to where they live.

“There’s just so many unanswered questions and they show up at these meetings and they just deflect, deflect, deflect,” resident Melinda Azule told KOIN 6 News.

Gretchen Bennett, the City of Salem Homeless liaison, said she apologizes “for anybody we needed to talk with that we didn’t get a chance to do.”

Salem Dashboard as of August 2021. UGM runs at half-capacity due to COVID protocols

Bennett admitted they’re working through a learning curve, trying to balance homeless demands and community concerns. She said that location is the only city-owned property that’s unused.

“I regret each conversation I didn’t have earlier,” Bennet said. “Any time we talk to people we learn and we have the opportunity to share information — so we’re always looking for how to communicate more, and more completely.”

Meanwhile, Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Alena Harvey said nearly 80 men are now receiving addiction recovery services and shelter at their newly opened location.

“For some they were looking to break their addiction, some came from the camps,” Harvey said.

However, the 284-person nightly shelter is currently capped at half-capacity due to COVID protocols.

“The quality of sheltering this year I worry a little bit about,” said Jimmy Jones, the executive director of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. “I’m thankful the city has put in resources into doing more.”

Microshelters put up by the City of Salem to address the homeless issue, October 7, 2021 (KOIN)

As a lead homeless advocate in Salem, Jones explained the biggest issue at this moment is money. He said state has an additional $25 million in sheltering reserve that they desperately need to get out soon, to help make up for the 20% cut to the primary homeless funds during the session.

While some progress has been made in Salem, Jones said there is a great deal of work to do.

Coming in November and December, the city council is going to look at proposed changes to the Salem Revised Code for the siting of sheltering strategies within the land use process.

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