The Salem City Council Monday voted unanimously to draft an emergency declaration to legally allow car camping in some areas of the city.
“Currently, there are few legal options for vehicle-camping within the city due to zoning restrictions and other restrictions on the use of property,” an informational report from city staff to council stated.
City staff recommended to council that the ordinance allow car camping at privately-owned sites, rather than having a city-sponsored program.
“First, the start-up time for a privately sponsored and operated vehicle-camping location would be significantly less than a city-sponsored site,” city staff said in its recommendations. “Second, the city does not have the resources (in terms of personnel, materials or funding) to manage a city-sponsored program.”
Standards for the car camping sites include restroom and trash access and having no more than six vehicles in one location.
Private property owners must register the location with the city to be able to operate a vehicle campsite from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The council also directed city staff to draft emergency declarations to increase shelter space at the Safe Sleep shelter to a capacity of 19 people, and to allow the use of the Pringle Hall Community Center as a temporary overnight shelter.
This comes after Salem enacted a tent camping ban late last month, causing some people experiencing homelessness to sleep outside of downtown businesses.
The council voted last month to allot more than $200,000 to help open an additional 140 shelter beds to people experiencing homelessness. That money was supposed to help open two warming shelter sites seven days a week, regardless of weather, through March.
In an interview with OPB’s Think Out Loud earlier this month, Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency — the region’s social services provider, said the city has opened about 25 of those additional beds so far.
There are about 1,800 people experiencing homelessness within Salem’s urban growth boundary, according to area service providers.
The city council will discuss those declarations at its next meeting later this month.