The homeless camp under the Marion Street bridge pictured in December. The camp was given a notice to evict by the end of the week. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter files)
UPDATE 4:35 p.m. Jan. 9: The city of Salem issued a press release. The release said the city had received “reports of crime, vermin and activities that violate Salem Revised Code” and other behaviors that create “unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the area.”
Salem City Manager Steve Powers said Salem’s “chief priority is to keep all members of the community safe, including the homeless. Conditions under the bridge have deteriorated to the point that it is no longer safe for people to be there.”
The city said elected members of Salem City Council prioritize helping the homeless and reiterated such issues will be talked about during the Jan. 23 work session where councilors set policy priorities in 2019.
Dozens of people living in tents in Marion Square Park will have to find a new home by next week.
The city of Salem posted an eviction notice at the homeless camp Tuesday morning, giving residents one week to vacate the area. About 30 people stay there during the day, and up to 70 at night, said Jimmy Jones, director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Network.
Lt. Treven Upkes of the Salem Police Department declined to say why the encampment is being evicted now, but he said camps are typically evicted when they become “unsafe and unsanitary.” A stabbing occurred there in November.
Upkes said the people living at Marion Square Park are often the most resistant to services offered by organizations like Union Gospel Mission and Jones’ Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Network.
“We’d love for people to say ‘I’m ready to get off the streets and accept some help.’ That’s ideally what we’d like to have happen,” Upkes said. “We know some will. Some have already dispersed. Quite honestly this was a service-resistant population.”
The camp has been there five months, according to Jones, and houses many women who are especially vulnerable on the streets.
Both Upkes and Jones said they plan to get the people in touch with service providers before the eviction starts. Jones, who runs ARCHES, said employees will contact those at the camp to make sure everyone there has been evaluated for housing. He said they would try to make arrangements for people who have serious medical issues to find shelter.
“I know there are some individuals who have health issues in that particular location who have been taking shelter from the rain,” Jones said. “Anyone that is in danger of dying from being in the elements, we’re going to try to do something for.”
Jones said his agency and others have been concerned about the safety of the camp since the stabbing. The man arrested lived under the bridge but had not had contact with ARCHES or other Salem agencies before, he said.
“We have a lot of guys coming into that area essentially to prey on the homeless,” he said.
The last time the city swept a large homeless camp was last March, Upkes said. Salem officials and the Oregon Department of Transportation moved to clean up a camp near Gilbert House Children’s Museum.
Upkes said people who don’t leave could be cited for trespass.
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