Salem’s largest homeless shelter plans to open by summer

Construction on the Union Gospel Mission men’s shelter is close to completion with a goal of opening in late June. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Soon to be the largest homeless shelter in Salem, Union Gospel Mission’s new men’s mission is nearing completion with a goal of opening this summer.

The nonprofit homeless service provider will move into a three-story, 55,000-square-foot facility across the street from the new Salem police station once construction is complete. The facility is currently being drywalled.

Located at 745 Commercial St. N.E., the new facility will double the number of beds the mission has available for unsheltered men to 300, add an onsite health clinic and expand education programs.

Mark Hunter, director of development at UGM, said the mission’s current building downtown is dark. Some have called it “dungeon-y,” he said.

“This new facility has windows and the light that comes into the building creates an atmosphere of dignity to those that we serve,” Hunter said.

Salem has a persistent lack of shelter space that has been exacerbated by Covid as shelters have had to cut beds for spacing. The new shelter will fill a much-needed sheltering gap as the city continues to look for locations to place hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in Salem.

UGM broke ground on the building in November 2019 while it was still short of its $15 million fundraising goal. Hunter said UGM was able to close the funding gap. About half of funding came from a patchwork of grants and tax credits, as well as proceeds from selling the current mission at 345 Commercial St. N.E. to the city of Salem for $1.5 million.

The city is hoping to redevelop the parcel to bring more housing and mixed use development downtown, said Kristin Retherford, Salem’s urban development director.

The third floor of the new building will host the New Life Fellowship, a voluntary 18-month program that has 78 beds to help men recover from addiction.

The second floor will be the shelter floor with 220 beds for those trying to get out of the elements. UGM will go from having three dorm rooms accommodating up to 50 men, to having ten dorm rooms accommodating up to 22.

We can still spread out,” Hunter said.

Hunter said the bed space is for non-Covid times. Right now, the shelter has to operate at 75% capacity under state guidelines, he said.

There will also be an onsite health clinic at the new facility to triage and assist houseless people with telehealth visits.

A lot of it will be telehealth with support from our counselors on staff,” Hunter said.

Right now, UGM has three counselors but will be able to expand to five as the facility builds toward capacity.

Hunter said the education program is being expanded tenfold with classrooms, 20 computer stations and a dedicated room for GED testing. The learning center currently helps men prepare to earn their GED and provides resources on job hunting and housing.

Hunter said UGM plans to take time to fill the new space.

“We’re going to grow into that building, it’s not just ‘open the doors’ and we’re full,” he said.

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