Portland Road micro shelter site to double capacity months ahead of deadline to clear

A partially-completed pallet shelter on April 13, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A managed micro shelter village on Northeast Portland Road will double its capacity in the next two weeks as staff from the city of Salem and homeless provider Church at the Park build 20 new shelters.

The new shelters would add 40 beds at “Village of Hope,” the city’s first micro shelter location, bringing the total capacity to 80 people, said DJ Vincent, founding pastor and chief executive officer for Church at the Park.

Church at the Park plans to fill the new shelters by the first week of May.

Micro shelters have been part of a years-long effort by city officials and Church at the Park to help homeless people in Salem transition into stable housing and employment, but challenges related to site planning, neighbor complaints and money for operation has made it difficult to put them in place. 

The nonprofit provides round-the-clock staff and services, including case management, navigation services, showers, food and clothing, according to a Wednesday press release.

The Village of Hope site at 2640 Portland Rd. N.E. previously needed to clear out by May because a property deed requirement didn’t allow shelter there for more than 18 months. But the State Department of Environmental Quality, which set the time limit, gave the city a 90-day extension to keep offering shelter at the site until Aug. 31.

The extension came after a judge’s order on March 11  blocked work on a Center Street property city officials intended to replace Village of Hope. 

The Salem City Council approved the use of the city-owned property on Jan. 24. Salem-based Riches Property Management Inc. filed a petition Feb. 23 seeking the Marion County Circuit 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.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas Hart in March 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 an unreasonable public safety risk.

But on April 13, Hart signed a new order allowing development on the site for potential micro shelters as the court completed its review.

“That’s a huge breakthrough,” said Vincent.

The city and Church at the Park still can’t place shelters on the site or offer services at the location while the litigation is pending, city spokeswoman Courtney Knox-Busch said Wednesday.

After finding an excavator that’s available for work at the Center street location, Vincent said they will give neighbors a heads-up, then start breaking ground and install a fence.

The city wrote in court filings that Salem has provided options for camping in parks, vehicle camping and assistance to warming and cooling shelters in the two-plus years it has been under a state of emergency due to its homeless population. The city has also provided medical, mental health, drug treatment and housing services.  

“These efforts have met with limited success, and the crisis continues,” the court filing said.

City officials, it said, have learned it can be difficult for people to transition from “the squalor and chaos” of an unmonitored setting like camping in a park to a more structured setting, such as residence hotels and apartments.

The court filing said the need for the proposed Center Street micro shelter village is “urgent,” adding setting up a new site would take at least two months. Without an alternative site after Village of Hope clears, its residents may be left without shelter, wrote Deputy City Attorney Thomas Cupani and Assistant City Attorney Michelle Teed.

The new micro shelters at Village of Hope are paid for by local, private donations. Vincent said 300 people have donated over $600,000 to Church at the Park since they started operating micro shelters, enough for over 150 to be built in Salem.

Of those funds, Vincent said $120,000 paid for the new shelters at Village of Hope and another $120,000 to order and build 20 more for the proposed Center Street site. He said $360,000 remains to be spent on new shelters.

The existing 20 micro shelters at Village of Hope were purchased by the city, as were 30 other active shelters at Catholic Community Services.

For the new shelters at Village of Hope, the press release said, each “will have an artistic, hand-painted door to signify the care and compassion of the donor community.”

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

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!