City of Salem
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Salem Council Poised to Declare Housing Emergency - 01/14/20

Salem, Ore. — Salem City Council plans to declare a housing emergency at a Council meeting  Tuesday, January 21, 2020, to increase temporary shelter options for those experiencing homelessness in Salem.

Declaration of an emergency will allow the Council to temporarily suspend certain land use provisions to:

  • Utilize Pringle Hall as an overnight shelter for up to 37 people
  • Increase capacity of the United Way’s Safe Sleep Shelter for women
  • Allow car camping on private property with the owner’s permission

On Monday, January 13, Councilors unanimously approved advancing these options with the potential for emergency implementation. The City has repeatedly called for a community-wide response in addressing the diverse challenges of homelessness and helping our unsheltered neighbors. Ideally, the City Council would like to see private property owners fill the shelter gap and allow Pringle Hall to remain an active community event venue.

Pringle Hall Shelter

City staff looked without success at a wide range of building options for additional shelter beds. City-owned Pringle Hall is the most viable near-term choice available. The building in Pringle Park on Church Street SE, has the capacity to shelter up to 37 people. It also has restrooms and kitchen facilities.

This strategy could be implemented quickly without all the barriers experienced with private facilities.

Under zoning laws, a temporary shelter at Pringle Hall is not allowed. To use it as a shelter, the City would need to approve an emergency declaration waiving the zoning requirements and designating the specific site.

United Way Safe Sleep Shelter

The Safe Sleep Shelter is a low-barrier shelter for women, located at 1910 Front Street. It is currently approved for up to 10 women and has capacity for up to 19. United Way is working through the land use process to obtain conditional use approval for the full 19 shelter beds. An emergency declaration could take effect upon approval, more quickly advancing authorization for the full 19-woman capacity.

Car Camping

Councilors also directed staff to present information on a provision to allow car camping on private property with property owner permission on a trial basis. If deemed successful, the provision could be considered for longer term.

Car camping would also require an emergency provision to waive certain land use requirements.

Background

Since Salem’s camping restrictions on public property went into effect in mid-December, some people without shelter have remained on downtown streets. Per Salem City Code (SRC 95), people are allowed to sit or lie on city streets, but not to erect shelters like tents.

In response to public concerns regarding conditions experienced by our unsheltered neighbors, the Council intended to expand warming center capacity in the city to nightly use from January until March, regardless of temperature. ARCHES oversees the warming shelter network. On December 9, 2019, the Council authorized up to $213,000 to support the plan. However, the shelters determined that they do not have the capacity to operate when temperatures are above 32 degrees. Efforts have continued to find a suitable space for temporary shelter.

Salem residents and visitors have reported difficulty passing on public rights of way, sometimes threatening behavior, and unsanitary conditions that include solid waste and garbage accumulation in public areas as a result of the unsheltered groups. Downtown businesses have stated that the conditions around their properties adversely affect their customers. The City has intervened with periodic cleanings when public health and safety conditions have deteriorated.

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Salem to Address Downtown Health and Safety Concerns CORRECTED - 01/08/20

Salem, Ore. – On Thursday, January 9, the City of Salem will temporarily close two sidewalks in downtown Salem and several nearby parking spaces to clean and sanitize the areas on Center Street where people resting in the public right of way have left accumulations of garbage and waste. On Friday, clean-up will continue on Liberty Street.

Residents and visitors have reported difficulty passing on public rights of way, sometimes threatening behavior, and unsanitary conditions, including solid waste and garbage accumulating in public areas. Downtown businesses say the conditions around their properties adversely affect their customers.

While sitting or lying down on sidewalks is allowed under the City’s camping restrictions, the City will intervene when conditions deteriorate, and public health or safety may be at risk along sidewalks.  

Clean-ups of this size and scale will result in a temporary closure of the sidewalk for cleaning and sanitation purposes.  The City’s focus will be on removing accumulated waste and restoring public health.  Possessions left behind will be collected and retained for 30 days.

“Helping our unsheltered neighbors continues to require a community-wide response,” said Steve Powers, Salem city manager. “Reducing homelessness in our community is a priority of the City.  Our primary concern is health and safety of all in our community including our unsheltered neighbors who often deal with untreated mental illness, addiction, and chronic health conditions worsened by long periods of homelessness.  Congregating in large groups under such unsanitary conditions isn’t a healthy situation for anyone.  Together, we can do better for our unsheltered neighbors than a camp on a sidewalk.  The City is committed to working in partnership with the community to provide housing and shelter.”

Businesses and other neighbors to unsheltered people can encourage respect for property by keeping the area in front of their business or property clean, well-maintained and well-lighted. Maintaining your own area encourages others to respect the area. More information is available online at https://www.cityofsalem.net/Pages/camping-in-your-neighborhood.aspx.

COMMUNITY SEEKING MORE TEMPORARY SHELTER BEDS THROUGH MARCH

Together with the ARCHES Project, the City of Salem is looking at properties to serve as a temporary shelter space during the cold season. ARCHES has been working with a commercial broker to look at privately owned spaces. 

Any space used as a shelter must meet health, safety and fire codes, be suitable for a shelter operation and meet zoning requirements. Proximity to resources and services is also important. 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND EMERGENCY SHELTER RESOURCES IN OUR COMMUNITY

Salem organizations currently offer 330 shelter beds nightly. Another 256 beds are available during nights when temperatures drop to 32 degrees or below through the volunteer network of churches known as the Salem Warming Network. Since the implementation of the City’s new camping law, no one seeking space in a warming shelter has been turned away. 

The City has for some time been working on efforts to reduce hardships that lead to the homelessness of our residents and increase access to affordable housing for those at risk of becoming homeless. With our non-profit partners, the City connects people to services and shelter, including:

  • City Council awards roughly $400,000 each year in grants and $1.4 million in federal funding to local non-profits that provide emergency or essential services to the most vulnerable populations with the highest need.  
  • Salem’s Housing Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) has housed 200 of the hardest-to-house individuals by providing housing first, intensive case management, and other resources.
  • More emergency shelter beds are coming to Salem, including another 150 emergency shelter beds when Union Gospel Mission’s new building is complete. 
  • The City and Salem Housing Authority are opening new affordable housing units. 
  • Through grants and tax incentives with support of the local development community and non-profits, opening other affordable housing throughout our community.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

No matter the size, your contributions will go the furthest towards making a difference when donated through established organizations instead of directly to our unsheltered neighbors on the street. You can play an integral role in improving the lives of individuals, while helping your community. The more unsheltered individuals are encouraged to make contact with service providers, the more likely they are to eventually accept other kinds of services, shelter, and housing.

  • Volunteer your time with the Salem Warming Center Network, ARCHES, Union Gospel Mission and other service providers in our community.
  • Many organizations directly help people experiencing homelessness and work to increase affordable housing. One thing you can do is find an organization that you want to support and ask them what they need.
  • Salem’s homeless service providers know how to help our homeless neighbors. It’s what they do best. The more you support them, the more they can help people get into stable housing.
  • Get to know the people living on the streets in your area and treat them like any neighbor.  Avoid perpetuating stereotypes, stigma and myths. People experiencing homelessness are not defined by their housing status. It’s often temporary, and it’s possible they’ve sought housing and/or shelter and there was none available.

Online:

Meeting Housing Needs, City of Salem: https://www.cityofsalem.net/Pages/meeting-housing-needs.aspx

The ARCHES Project: http://mwvcaa.org/programs/crp/

Salem Warming Network: https://salemwarming.weebly.com

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City of Salem Reports Sewer Overflow Event - 01/07/20

The City of Salem announced that an overflow of raw sewage occurred on January 6 at approximately 4:40 PM into Clark Creek due to a sanitary sewer pipe blockage near 910 Cedar Way SE. Approximately 2200 gallons of raw sewage were spilled at the site. Public Works Department crews were immediately dispatched to the site and stopped the overflow at approximately 10:30 PM. Any bacteria that entered the site should be flushed out of the water body in the next few days. 

If you see an overflowing manhole or wish to report a spill, please call the Public Works Department Dispatch Center at 503-588-6311.