Salem’s citywide ban on tent and structure camping goes into effect Monday. Instead of following up on its original idea of designating a sanctioned campsite for some people displaced by the ban, the Salem City Council decided Dec. 9 to open 140 shelter beds seven nights a week.
At its Monday meeting, the City Council voted to spend up to $213,000 to open beds at two warming shelters nightly starting Jan. 1 at the latest and spanning through March.
Currently, the city has four warming shelters that open when temperatures drop below freezing. This plan would open shelters at the First Presbyterian Church and Church at the Parks, regardless of the weather.
“I think it’s the fastest way that we can get to a solution,” Councilor Chris Hoy said. “I think it’s the lowest cost and, frankly, I think it’s more effective than the other idea we were looking at.”
The Council was originally slated to choose a city property for a temporary, sanctioned campsite.
City staff narrowed down the options to 10 spots including parks and parking lots and, in a plan given to the Council, stated the cost for a site would be estimated at up to $1 million per year. Staff said the city-provided campsite would require two to three months to set up and would require supervision.
That campsite, as envisioned, would also only hold about 35 people.
Some councilors noted that the city’s most visible campsite, near the homeless support services facility The ARCHES Project, has seen about 70 individuals.
Ashley Hamilton is with the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, a homeless services provider for the area that was slated to administer the potential city campsite and oversees the city’s warming shelter network.
Hamilton said the more than $200,000 would help bring on some full-time shelter employees to alleviate pressure on volunteers. She also said opening the two warming shelters nightly will help with consistency not only for volunteers, but also the people they serve.
“We’d be consistently open,” Hamilton said, “rather than relying on social media or word of mouth or other various means to figure out, ‘Is it 32 degrees? Is it activated or not?’”
About 450 volunteers are signed up to help at the warming shelters, Hamilton said.
People who stay at the shelters will be able to stow large possessions in storage pods outside the two churches. Hamilton also said the warming shelters are low-barrier, and people can bring their pets and partners with them.
Many council members worried about the more than two weeks between when the camping ban is set to take effect and the shelter beds opening — specifically where people would go and how they would get directed back to shelters when they open.
The Council is unable to amend the previously passed ordinance to change the effective date. It would have to pass an entirely new ordinance to do so.
“For those two, three weeks, what are we going to do about those individuals who are going to be displaced by that?” Councilor Jackie Leung said. “We’re already eroding that trust with them by kicking them out.”
Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, agreed that people would most likely disperse across the city, without their tents.
“One of the things I worry about more than anything else is when we bust up camps, big or small, is that there’s always the possibility that folks are just going to run out of places to go and filter their way into residential neighborhoods,” Jones said. “And that is a prescription for disaster for all of us.”
He continued: “When the camping ban goes into effect, what people will do is they will scatter.”
Though, Jones said, he expects almost all people will be drawn back into the city for resources and services, regardless of where they go.