Hundreds of people gathered at a community center in West Salem on Tuesday to speak out against a micro-shelter project to house homeless people over the age of 55.
The meeting wasintended to give neighbors the opportunity to find out more about the site from municipal authorities and service providers. But with several angry remarks and printed signs saying “NO!”, Many have made their position against the project clear.
The crowd of over 200 walked out of the standing-only meeting room in Salemtowne, a 55-plus golf community, located approximately half a mile from the proposed micro-shelter site at 2700 Wallace Road NW.
“I don’t think the city and the council expected that much of a step back,” said Janet Romine, a resident.
She said she hopes that with more feedback from the community officials will change their mind about the location of the shelter.
“It’s not that we don’t care and we don’t want a homeless provision for them… it’s the location,” Romine said. “It’s too close to the children. It’s too close to the vulnerable.”
Lack of input from the neighbor
In a public meeting on September 27, Salem City Council unanimously approved the site to be created on vacant city-owned property near the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Wallace Road Park and Ride.
Previously:Homeless camp is pushed back by neighbors, advanced by council
The site would accommodate 30 micro-shelters, able to accommodate two people each and provide electricity, storage and heat. Church at the Park, a faith-based nonprofit that provides services to homeless people, reportedly operates the site.
The Wallace Road shelters would be the first managed site in West Salem.
There are none in southern Salem. North Salem is home to two micro-shelters managed by Church at the Park.
One, at 2640 Portland Road NE, opened in April with 20 Pallet shelters and prioritized homeless women. Another at 3737 Portland Road NE is slated to open this month and be family-focused.
City staff and homeless advocates reiterated their commitment to having a managed camp with micro-shelters in every neighborhood in the city.
News of the proposed West Salem site hit neighbors days before the September 27 council meeting. Residents, upset by the lack of communication, flooded the town’s inbox with testimonials, most of which were against the proposal.
Some residents pointed to the region’s lack of access to services, transportation and grocery stores. Others said they were concerned about its proximity to the Salemtowne seniors community, apartments, schools and daycares.
Residents have expressed concern about the increase in crime, litter and foot traffic that the site could cause.
“I have nowhere to go”:The remaining campers were evacuated from the Portland Road property
Adam Lidren said he found the refuge two days before the council meeting by a frenzied neighbor.
Lidren lives in an apartment complex next to the site. Her 9-year-old son’s path to the bus stop passes through what may soon be the managed campsite.
“I am completely against the shelter for where it is,” he said. “I’m not against the program itself. I think it’s a great program and the city of Salem needs it.”
But the shelter’s proximity to his home, the potential for drug use at the site, and the lack of security in neighboring elderly communities are cause for concern, he said.
The same is true, he added, for the city’s lack of communication with neighbors like him.
Lidren said he was concerned about disrupting his son, who is autistic, and for his safety.
“It will bring more fear,” he said.
Resident Meghan Watson-Colin echoed similar concerns over the sudden news about the camp.
“We are a small, quiet community that was taken aback by the decision to build a homeless camp,” she said. “Our voices have not been heard or solicited for an opinion.”
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Following the city council meeting, Watson-Colin worked to arrange meetings with city officials to address these concerns.
Others wrote to council members, saying the site would be better suited “outside the affluent areas of Salem” and added that the camp would reduce the value of nearby properties and the area would become a dumping ground for the population without. city shelter.
These themes resonated in Tuesday’s meeting.
“People are worried”
The gathering, in the presence of Councilor Jim Lewis, whose neighborhood is reportedly home to the site, of Town Homeless Liaison Gretchen Bennett, Salem Housing Authority Administrator Nicole Utz, Founding Pastor of the Church of the park, DJ Vincent, and Salem Deputy Police Chief Steve Bellshaw, was intended to be a question-and-answer session to dispel confusion and address concerns about the site.
But many residents, despite requests from the monitor to be courteous and allow time for answers, shouted at city staff and spoke through the loudspeakers.
The reason the city saw such passionate engagement was that the neighbors are wealthy, educated and community-minded, said a resident.
He said the city’s rhetoric of putting the burden on the community and saying helping the homeless is a partnership was nonsense and people worried about the value of their property , the safety of their children and the appearance of their neighborhood.
His comments were followed by heavy applause from the crowd.
“The excluded from society”:Salem’s homeless population continues to be mixed
Resident Chris Kleronomos said he believed the responses from city staff were vague and that the shelter’s funders had not done enough to gain community buy-in.
He said it was another example of West Salem residents’ wishes being ignored. And, he said, the onus shouldn’t fall on his neighborhood to host the site and the consequences of malfunctioning.
“What interests me are the values of property, crime, safety, the image of the city,” Kleronomos said.
At the September council meeting, Lewis said the lack of communication with neighbors was unfortunate, but he believed the pushback would ease once people knew more about the sites being managed, security measures in place and their successes.
When a resident said that homelessness was not his problem to deal with, Lewis replied, “You said it was not your problem. I say that’s our whole problem.
Lewis said residents made it clear at meetings that they were upset by the lack of communication.
“I can only hope people came away with a better idea of how a managed camp is so much better than an unmanaged camp,” he said. “I heard loud and clear that the residents would help find an alternative site that was viable.
Bennett said the city is researching and considering any suggestions for an alternative site.
Space for women, over 55s
The sites are managed, secure, and completely different from the unmanaged camps at Cascades Gateway and Wallace Marine Park, which have been linked to crime, garbage and destruction of the park.
Church at the Park’s Vincent cited various measures to make sites secure, including having staff on site 24 hours a day; digital security; provide transportation to appointments and accommodation options; provide showers, food and clothing; and have a space to help participants access housing, addiction, health and employment services.
He said they don’t host someone if it’s a known sex offender and are considering background checks for those who apply.
This refuge would give priority to women and people over 55 years old.
The Simonka Place women’s shelter is currently at full capacity. Vincent said their waiting list of 357 people for micro-shelter sites includes 66 people over 55 and 151 women.
“We have so many people living outside in unmanaged, dangerous and inappropriate spaces,” Bennett said. “Many are women and many are older. Many are vulnerable.”
Finding a place for these people to stabilize and take shelter is an urgent need, she said.
“We are listening to specific ways in which we can contribute to the livability of the area, to help keep the surrounding spaces clean,” Bennett said.
Shelters provide heat, security, electricity and protection from the elements, but are not intended to be permanent homes. Instead, they are meant to help people stabilize and make the transition to jobs and permanent housing.
The first two micro-shelters managed in northern Salem were found to be hygienic, safe and cared for, Vincent said.
He said 37 of the residents of the managed camps in northern Salem subsequently found employment and 19 were granted permanent housing.
Many residents expressed concern for the safety of the property on Wallace Road and said it had been flooded during the winter.
Bennett said previous flood studies indicated the site would not be inundated. But she saidafter receiving photos of the flooded meadows from residents, she requests further analysis of the terrain.
She said the prairie review should take a few weeks.
“We will not place micro shelters on the grass until clarity is confirmed,” she said. “In the meantime, we are considering alternative sites as well as the sidewalk adjacent to the grass on the property.”
City staff estimate that it will cost $ 87,000 to prepare the site, $ 150,000 for themicro-shelters and $ 96,000 per month for operations. American Rescue Plan Act funds are available to cover most of this, but additional funds may be needed for micro-shelters.
Shelters cost $ 5,000 each.
A group of Salem residents coordinated a fundraising effort for community members interested in adopting a shelter. Last week, they funded more than 60 shelters.
Those wishing to donate to fund a shelter can contact:
- Hazel Patton at [email protected]
- Ron Steiner at [email protected]
- Emil Graziani at [email protected]
How to help:Have $ 5,000? Salem volunteers seek funding for micro-shelters