Salem scraps micro shelter plans amid flooding concerns

Marion County

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) —  The City of Salem is searching for new sites to build a micro shelter community for the homeless after they had to scrap the proposed site along Wallace Road in West Salem.

While the proposed site on Wallace Road was hotly debated by neighbors right next door, the city said that wasn’t what led to the cancelation.

The City of Salem’s homeless liaison, tasked with finding sites for micro shelters, said it was local knowledge from neighbors that prompted the city to do a study, which determined there are substantial wetlands on the property.

Residents had previously warned the city that the area floods every winter.

The original city maps didn’t show that, but the city did a study that found the grassland area has substantial wetlands.

“There is not enough city-owned property to move forward with the site,” said Gretchen Bennett, Salem’s homeless liaison.

She said the paved portion of the site is owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation and there isn’t enough paved space to put the 30 micro shelters.

“We are still desperate,” said Bennett. “We have a lot of land in Salem that is wet or wetland or already occupied. It’s striking how few parcels are actually open and available, so please if you know of a spot, we’re looking for 3/4 of an acre for outdoor parcels.”

Zak Stone, a former commercial real estate developer and lifelong Salem resident is helping the city identify shelter sites.

“I’m on a committee right now where we are looking at different properties around town to see if we can talk to those landlords and convince them or work out some kind of agreement that they feel comfortable with,” Stone said. “So that we can do this in the right location.”

The city said they’d welcome partnerships with private landowners.

“We’d love to borrow land, we’d love to lease land we’d love to talk about purchases,” Bennett said. “That being said, we need to go where the land is actually available. So it’s to be determined whether or not we will be able to achieve the goal of good geographical distribution.”

Originally the city wanted to have a micro shelter in every ward.

Salem began moving people experiencing homelessness out of city parks in early June, after allowing them to camp there for more than a year and hearing outcry from those who live nearby as the camps were unmanaged.

The city promised to add another micro-shelter community like two others already operating in North Salem.

“We appreciate all those in West Salem who came forward with a willingness to help and we hope that help continues as we work to address this emergency,” Councilor Jim Lewis, who represents the ward where the site would have been located, said in a statement.

With options shrinking the city is hoping hearts will start opening. The city and their partners said they’re making progress on indoor locations for shelters ahead of the winter months but are at a dead end on the outdoor shelter front.

“Everyone talks a big game, nows the time to come together as a community to find the right location, get these shelters built and get these people off the streets,” Stone said.

Officials said the city is actively seeking locations to expand alternative shelter options and suggestions for sites should be directed to the city: media@cityofsalem.net.

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