City, police, service providers prepare for homeless eviction Tuesday

A bike secured at a barrier along the Marion Square Park homeless encampment on Friday. The city of Salem is will clear the camp Tuesday morning. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

Workers from Northwest Human Services will be among the first to arrive at a homeless camp under the Marion Street Bridge Tuesday morning, an hour before its eviction.

Scott Prentice, who will be one of the organization’s representatives in the morning, said he expects a wide spectrum of reactions to his and other services’ arrival.

 “I expect to see a lot of people who are distraught, people who are upset,” he said. “I expect to see people who are tired of being on the street. I expect to see people who don’t know how to access services. I expect to see people who are frustrated with the system and want nothing to do with us tomorrow. I expect to see a little bit of everything.”

The city of Salem will evict a camp of about 15 to 30 homeless people from under the bridge, near Marion Square Park, which the city said sprung up in part because of its own efforts to regulate volunteers who had spent years providing free meals to the homeless.

Last week city officials announced the eviction, blaming “reports of crime, vermin and other activities that violate Salem Revised Code.” City officials, the Salem Police Department and some under the bridge told Salem Reporter on Friday violence had gotten out of hand; and rats had become unwelcome regulars.

“At night you see ‘em running rampant, trying to get in the tents,” said Kevin Graham, a 56-year-old veteran who has lived there since November.

A day before eviction, those participating in the sweep gave a rough outline of how it will go. Northwest Human Services is expected to arrive first, around 7 a.m., to offer any aid. Organizations like The ARCHES Project and Union Gospel Mission are expected to stop by at some point, as well.

At about 8 a.m., at least six police officers will show up to start the sweep, followed by Salem’s public works department to start a cleanup by 9 a.m.

“We’re not going to stand there going ‘tick-tock,’ make an announcement and arrest people (for trespassing),” said police spokesman Lt. Treven Upkes. “We get it. We’ll let them take their time to move things.”

Prentice said he and three others will encourage residents to go to its HOAP Day Center, which offers showers, bathrooms, laundry and other social services. They will also offer to drive people in need to West Salem Clinic.

“When you live out on the street and you’re chronically homeless, all your symptoms get exacerbated,” he said. He highlighted how mental health problems, physical illness and substance abuse can collide. “It all just feeds into each other and makes treating people quite complex.”

Health hazards at the camp remain unclear. Rumors circulated over the weekend of a case of tuberculosis, but Marion County’s Health and Human Services Department said Monday morning that there was no case.

“Whenever there’s a gathering of people outside, lots of rumors can start spreading,” said Katrina Rothenberger, director of the department’s public health division. She said the county will investigate a case for the contagious lung disease only if there’s an activate case. She added there have not been reports of communicable disease at the camp.

“Crime and physical waste is really the issue,” said Upkes, saying people are reportedly taking five gallon buckets into their tents to be used as toilets. “They’re one hand-wash away from a bad Hepatitis A outbreak.”

Dimke said the city’s public works department isn’t sure how extensive its cleanup will be but said they have some basic expectations.

“There might be human waste, there might be things that are hazardous,” she said. “You kind of have to assume those things are going to be present.”

Dimke added the city plans to hold on to some things they pick up in case the camp residents leave behind something on accident.

Reporter Rachel Alexander contributed to this article.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.