City not seeking new micro shelter village sites as court reviews approval of Center Street location

Volunteers walk along a row of pallet shelters under construction on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

City officials say they are not pursuing any new sites for a planned micro shelter village after a judge’s order blocked work on a Center Street property approved by the Salem City Council.

Marion County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Hart on March 11 ordered that the city take no action to site the micro shelter village at 1280 Center St. N.E., as the court reviews whether it would create a public risk.

The order came after Salem-based Riches Property Management Inc. filed a petition seeking the court’s review of the council’s decision to site the shelter village across the street from one of their properties, The Forum Apartments at 350 13th St. N.E.

It’s a setback for plans to open a site city officials recently said could fit about 40 shelters and has space for parking. The city could have used the site for up to three years. The village would be operated by homeless service provider Church at the Park.

“The decision from the judge is temporary and not final,” Church at the Park wrote in a March 31 email update to supporters. “City attorneys are appealing the stay and they are hopeful that the judge will rule in the city’s favor in the near future.”

Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, said the court order blocks the city from doing “any preparation work” for the micro shelter village on the property.

Bennett said the city didn’t have a timeline on how much the order would delay setting up micro shelters. “We hope the matter is resolved quickly at the Circuit Court,” she said.

The Center Street site is one of three the city council approved on Jan. 24 as potential locations for a new micro shelter site that would replace “Village of Hope,” the city’s first micro shelter location, which was operated by Church at the Park and sheltered 40 people.

The Village of Hope site originally needed to clear out by May because a property deed requirement didn’t allow shelter at the site for more than 18 months. But the State Department of Environmental Quality, which set the time limit on the site, gave Salem a 90-day extension to continue offering shelter at the site on 2640 Portland Rd. N.E., said Kristin Retherford, director of the city’s Urban Development Department, at a city council meeting last week. The site is a former Department of Motor Vehicles location.

The extension means Church at the Park can continue operating the shelters until Aug. 31, Bennett said.

The court ordered the city on March 11 to provide records related to the council’s decision to fund and site the Center Street shelter.

City attorney Dan Atchison said at a March 28 city council meeting that the city is compiling the records so the court can determine whether the city placed the public at “unreasonable risk.”

Atchison also said the city is preparing to file motions to dismiss the matter in response to the judge’s order.

An attorney for Riches Property Management wrote in the petition dated Feb. 23 that their investment in a multi-family property will be impacted by health and safety concerns. The company operates 13 properties in Salem and one in Tigard, according to its website.

He also said the city didn’t consider the effect on public health and safety of placing a micro shelter village near “unregulated high speed railroad intersection.”

Regarding the city being served a writ of review, Retherford said at the meeting that it is often a “step forward, step back kind of process” for the city to identify sites for and set up micro shelters.

Bennett said in January the city planned to use some of a $10 million grant it received last year from the state Legislature for sheltering to pay for the new site. The shelter was expected to cost $200,000 to start up a location and another $192,000 for a month and a half of operations.

Salem area residents helped raise more than $600,000 to purchase the shelters. There were about 400 people on a waiting list to get into the shelters in January, when councilors approved funding for the new site and the three potential locations.

The other two locations the council approved are at 2410 Turner Road S.E. (property owned by Church at the Park) and the northwest corner of Northeast Front and Hood Streets (property owned by Truitt Brothers). Both either have shorter leases, or need additional work or parking agreements with neighbors.

The micro shelter villages are funded with federal American Rescue Plan Act money in fiscal year 2022 and the following year are funded with a combination of federal and state grant funds, with money running out by fiscal year 2025.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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