Homeless look for shelter in wake of Salem camp ban


The City of Salem banned public camping on Dec. 2, the rule went into effect 2 weeks later

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — It has been more than 2 weeks since Salem’s camping ban went into effect, prohibiting camping on public property and right-of-ways. People who are homeless have been left looking for places to go after the city failed to provide all of the shelter beds they promised by the start of this year.

When the city voted on this camping ban it was passed with the understanding that the people effected would have someplace to go, but finding a seasonal shelter for the homeless has proven to be more difficult than city officials thought.

“That irritates me more than anything because if you are going to promise shelters are going to be open, keep that promise,” said Karl Brian who experiences homelessness. “Don’t just say that and not open them up.”

For weeks, campers have been bounced around to different locations throughout the city. Their latest home is in front of the old Nordstrom building at Center and Liberty.

People who are homeless in Salem are now camping out at the vacant downtown Nordstrom. January 6, 2020 (KOIN)

Jeff Eubanks has been living on the streets of Salem for the last year, carrying his essentials on whiles with his wife and service dog in tow. After medical issued drained his savings, his life looks a lot different than how he had imagined it.

“This whole situation is a mess for everybody—not just us, but the citizens of this town,” said Eubanks. “We need to find a way to come together and deal with this.”

Before the camping ban was passed, there were 330 regular emergency shelter beds available in Salem, with an additional 250 bed offered on nights when temperatures reach freezing levels at 32 degrees or below. At a Dec. 9 council meeting, city leaders approved the addition of 140 new beds to accommodate the homeless people affected by the camping ban. However, Community Action said they had planned for 100 new beds. Of the new beds approved and anticipated, only 25 are currently available.

“We need something on an emergency, temporary basis to provide if there is a camping ban that is going to stay in existence,” said Community Action Executive Director Jimmy Jones. “We need to provide a temporary duration model through the rest of the winter.”

People who are homeless in Salem are now camping out at the vacant downtown Nordstrom. January 6, 2020 (KOIN)

The agency is working with the city to find shelters, but told KOIN 6 News that after one shelter backed out, the chances of finding a replacement are not looking promising.

“We have a very small and very tight commercial retail market here in the City of Salem,” said Jones. “There are very few buildings that are commercial markets that are available, and just about everybody that is available has very little interest in a short term lease.”

City Council approved more than $200,000 to go toward existing warming shelters that would be available for people from January 1 through the end of March. Without a set shelter in place to house more homeless, Jones is proposing the city council repeal the camping ban for commercial and residential areas.

“We need to realize this is not going to be solved at the level of seriousness and the level of gravity that is has in the past,” said Jones. “We have to do much more.”

The 140 bed which the city approved would still not be enough to house the at least 1,000 homeless throughout Salem. The City of Salem told KOIN 6 News they are working with community partners to find shelter.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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