Salem residents are more concerned about homelessness than ever and are increasingly pessimistic about the direction the city is headed in.
That’s according to an annual survey conducted from Aug. 12 to 16 by DHM Research on behalf of the city of Salem to better understand residents’ priorities.
In the survey, researchers asked 400 residents an open-ended question — what issue they would like city officials to do something about.
Since the survey started in 2016, the percentage of residents who identify homelessness as the most important issue has climbed steadily: from 7% in 2016, to 33% in 2018, to 49% in 2020, to 58% in 2021.
Covid received the second-highest number of mentions at 8%.
“Homelessness now casts a much larger and growing shadow over any other concern,” the survey noted.
Only one in four residents are satisfied with how well the city has ensured that all residents have access to affordable housing, and less than one in five are satisfied with how it has coordinated social services to serve the needs of homeless people.
City satisfaction and public opinion of city services also declined from previous surveys.
Last year the number of people who felt Salem was on the right track or wrong track were nearly split, with 41% responding negatively and 38% responding positively.
This year the number of “wrong track” responses shot up to 65%, with a third of respondents saying it was mainly city actions that contributed to the direction the city was headed in.
DHM said statewide surveys show the percentage of Oregonians saying the state is heading in the right direction has fallen about 20-points in the last five years.
For the first time, more than half of Salem residents feel dissatisfied with the value they receive from their taxes. Last year, 38% were dissatisfied, while 56% were dissatisfied this year. Democrats, 57%, are more satisfied with their tax value than Republicans at 25%.
Satisfaction with the Salem Public Library declined 18-percentage points in the last year to 51%. The library has been closed to the public during the pandemic and offering curbside pickup for library items.
There was also a 19-percentage point decline in residents’ satisfaction with maintenance of city streets, sidewalks, bridges year over year to 48%.
The number of people who said it is difficult to operate a business in Salem grew from 48% in 2019 to 69% this year, which the survey said is “likely an indication of the challenges faced by most businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
While a majority of respondents are still satisfied with overall city services like fire, police, parks, water and stormwater, that took a hit from 86% in 2020 to 70% in 2021.
The survey noted that people of color reported an increase in satisfaction with the police, from 54% in 2020 to 65% in 2021. Whites reported a lower level of satisfaction, dropping slightly from 77% last year to 72% this year.
City Manager Steve Powers said the feedback is always helpful.
“The city has been tested over the past year, and the survey results indicate where we have work to do,” he said in a statement.
Previous survey coverage:
Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].
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