Salem through the eyes of a homeless photographer

The intersection of Union Street N.E. and Commercial Street N.E, pictured recently. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

Editor’s note: Salem Reporter passed out several disposable cameras to homeless people living around downtown Salem and asked them to document their lives.

As we get cameras back, we’re publishing the photos and some explanation from our photographers about why they chose the images they did.

Many of Anthony McGuire’s photos are nondescript – they show storefronts and buildings downtown, places he walks past regularly.

But for him, each image says something about Salem: what the growing city has prioritized, or where he can get a meal and some relief from the cold.

McGuire took the photo above to show the contrast between two empty lots on the north end of downtown. Directly ahead is the future home of Salem’s new police station, which voters overwhelmingly approved a nearly $62 million ballot measure to fund.

“I think it’s just stupid they spent that kind of money,” McGuire said.

Across the street is the future site of a new Union Gospel Mission shelter. The mission is still working to raise the $15 million needed to build it.

The former home of a beauty college sits empty. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

McGuire said he took photos of vacant buildings like this to show that Salem already has space to shelter people. He’d like to see a vacant space turned into “something for women,” who are especially vulnerable to crime and abuse on the streets.

Christmas is something McGuire looks forward to, and many of his photos showed the decorations around town. The nutcrackers sat in a store window he passed after eating at Straight Up Pizza, he said.

On Christmas, McGuire said he tries to save up money to treat himself to something nice. This year’s meal was pad thai and Thai iced tea from Thai Orchid in Liberty Plaza.

Thai Orchid, where McGuire treated himself to a Christmas meal. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

A tranquil spot pictured along Pringle Creek, near Salem City Hall. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

Especially in the summer, Pringle Creek is a place he comes to think. “I spend a lot of time down here just relaxing by the water,” McGuire said.

The remains of a homeless camp seen from the West Salem foot bridge. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

McGuire stayed in this camp briefly and said it “blew his mind” how much trash had accumulated since he left. The area has since been cleaned up, he said.

Two dogs cross the West Salem foot bridge. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

McGuire walks around Salem to get meals and frequents Cafe Shine and Inside Out Salem in the downtown area, as well as a Friday night meal at a West Salem church.

A Saturday morning breakfast at Inside Out Salem. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

Reed Opera House pictured in downtown Salem. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

“I just really liked the building, the history behind it,” McGuire said of the Reed Opera House.

A downtown doorway where McGuire slept regularly with his friend, Daggers. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

Finding shelter is always difficult. McGuire had permission from a downtown croissant shop to sleep in their doorway with his friend, he said.

“It was nice because it was out of the rain,” he said.

But other homeless people soon started hanging around and leaving trash behind. The owner told McGuire he’d have to stop staying there just after New Year’s. There’s now a no trespassing sign posted, he said.

A new apartment building on the south end of downtown, pictured from the intersection of Commercial Street N.E. and Trade Street N.E. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

Trash on the edge of the homeless camp in Marion Square Park. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

The Marion Square Park homeless camp grew rapidly, McGuire said. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

The homeless camp under the Marion Street Bridge that was evicted Wednesday. McGuire said he didn’t stay there.

“Countless times when I’ve gone through I’ve tried to convince these people to clean up after themselves,” he said. “I was blown away by how big it had gotten so fast.”

A Port-A-Potty wired shut in Marion Square Park. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

The park has no options for people looking to use the bathroom. Park restrooms are locked, and Port-A-Potties on the other side are also closed.

“It’s been wired shut for a long time,” McGuire said. He wishes someone would get rid of it since it’s not in use.

People gather in the parking lot of The ARCHES Project across the street from Marion Square Park. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

McGuire’s friend Daggers crosses the street. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

Daggers, who McGuire often spends time with, was also given a disposable camera. “We were in a race to see who could finish the roll first,” he said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: (503) 575-1241 or [email protected]

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.