Salem to evict homeless camp at Marion Square Park Thursday

Dawn Campbell has been struggling to find an affordable place to live and has been staying at Marion Square Park. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

City leaders will force dozens of people to leave Salem’s Marion Square Park Thursday, while acknowledging there isn’t enough shelter space or available housing for the people who will be displaced.

The number of people staying in the park has steadily grown as the city has closed Cascades Gateway Park and has Wallace Marine Park slated for cleanup in the coming weeks. Residents Tuesday estimated at least 75 people are living there.

Dawn Campbell, 53, was one of the people staying in the park on Tuesday, getting around using a walker after breaking her back from being hit by a car years ago.

She said she’s had money for a deposit and the first three months of rent through the Easter Seals of Oregon as a veteran but hasn’t been able to find an affordable place to rent.

“There’s not a place here for under $950,” she explained.

Campbell said she was gifted a fifth wheel, but because it was too old, a 1996 model, she and her partner couldn’t park it in an RV park. She said she was approved for a truck loan to pull the RV, but because she doesn’t have a physical address, she can’t get the loan.

That’s left her sleeping in a tent at Marion Square Park next to the Center Street Bridge.

She uses a walker to get around and said she wouldn’t be able to move far from services, like the ability to take a shower. The camp is across the street from The ARCHES Project, one of Salem’s largest service providers.

Campbell said she didn’t know where else to go.

About half the people experiencing homelessness in Salem are women and there aren’t enough shelter beds to accommodate for them.

Courtney Knox-Busch, city spokesperson, said the city initially posted notice in the park weeks ago but delayed a cleanup because of the cold weather last week.

“We understand transitions are difficult and make every effort to help people transition to other, more appropriate shelter,” she said in a statement.

The city of Salem has posted signs letting people know Marion Square Park will be closed on March 2 in effort to get people to leave before a March 3 sweep. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

She said continued camping at Marion Square Park isn’t a sustainable solution and that the city is continuing to look for ways to meet shelter needs.

Knox-Busch said the city can’t force people to access shelter, meaning if couples want to stay together or people have pets, they may not be able to stay in shelters even if there is space available.

“Further, available shelter and housing may not meet the individual’s needs, and depending upon the circumstances, there is often not available emergency shelter or housing,” the statement said.

Signs posted in the park said it would be closed on Wednesday, March 2, with people expected to leave the following day when city crews and police come in to clean up the park.

But on Tuesday, no one appeared to be packing up.

Tony Collins and her red-nosed pit bull at Marion Square Park. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Tony Collins, who said people call her “Momma T”, said she’s been trying to keep trash picked up in the park in the hopes of being able to stay.

She said it’s difficult for her to try and keep trash picked up when there are 75 to 100 people living in the park.

The 55-year-old has been in Marion Square Park for a year, first sleeping in a tent in front of The ARCHES Project.

“ARCHES is the only place that has resources for us,” she said, listing off showers, meals and a place to get mail. 

She said there are a lot of people who have limited mobility staying in the park and can’t cross muddy paths to go elsewhere.

“I am worried because there are a lot of people that are wheelchair bound and there is nowhere else to go,” she said.

Collins said her boyfriend has heart problems and wouldn’t be able to make the trek from Wallace Marine Park to ARCHES each day for meals and other services. Collins also has health issues.

She said she’s not in favor of putting micro shelters inside the park.

“Salem got over $400 million, and they want to put everybody in little Pallet houses. That money could go toward homes and apartments for us,” she said, referring to funding that was recently approved through the Oregon Legislature.

Jamie Barquest said she feels safe in Marion Square Park, as opposed to Wallace Marine where she said she was raped last year.

Salem Reporter talked with Barquest when she was living in Wallace, pondering where to go next when city-sanctioned camping ended in that park.

The city previously swept a homeless camp at Marion Square Park in early 2019.

Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency, said he expects most people will head to Cascades Gateway Park or toward Interstate 5.

Marion Square Park on March 1, 2022. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Tents filled Marion Square Park on March 1, 2022. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!