Matt Herbert, navigation services manager for Church at the Park, at the door of a micro shelter at Village of Hope on May 11, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Salem will move its oldest micro shelter village to a new location on Northeast Center Street in August after a Marion County Circuit Court judge Tuesday ruled the site would not create a public risk.
The new site will accommodate Village of Hope, a micro shelter operation run by private nonprofit Church at the Park under contract with the city. Village of Hope opened in April 2021 at 2640 Portland Road N.E. and currently has space for 80 homeless Salemites to live, with a waitlist of over 300 in late May.
Deed restrictions on the Portland Road property meant it couldn’t host a shelter site past August, city homeless liaison Gretchen Bennett said, which meant the city had to find an alternate location.
The ruling on the Center Street site comes more than four months after Salem-based Riches Property Management Inc. filed a petition in February seeking a judge’s review of the city council’s decision to site the shelters across the street from one of their apartment complexes — The Forum Apartments at 350 13th St. N.E.
Zachary Dablow, an attorney for Riches Property Management, wrote in the petition that health and safety concerns would impact their investment in a multi-family property. The company operates 13 properties in Salem and one in Tigard, according to its website. He also said the city didn’t consider the public health and safety impacts of placing a micro shelter village near an “unregulated high speed railroad intersection.”
Riches Property Management said in an email Thursday that they understand and accept the judge’s ruling. “While we believe the City of Salem’s approval of the 1280 Center Street site was too light on detail to address health and safety of the site residents and the public; specifically the impacts to the traffic infrastructure, and the plans to address non-approved unsheltered that may amass near the site, the discretion is ultimately with the court, and the court ruled in favor of the City’s right to proceed,” the company said in an email.
“While we hope that that the city and its non-profit partner have adequately prepared for the impacts of the site on the surrounding community, we have doubts that remain about siting the micro-shelter village at this location, given it’s directly abutting a residential zone,” they added. “It is the city itself that found siting these micro-shelter villages amongst residential areas inappropriate.”
Councilors in January had approved the use of the city-owned property, which city officials at the time said could fit about 40 shelters, has space for parking and could be used for up to three years. The village would be operated by homeless service provider Church at the Park.
On March 11, Circuit Judge Thomas Hart ordered the city take no action to site the village at 1280 Center St. N.E. as he completed his review.
He signed a new order on April 13 allowing development on the site for potential micro shelters. City officials said they still couldn’t place shelters on the site or offer services at the location while the case was pending.
Hart dismissed the case Tuesday, stating in a judgment that the council’s approval of the site “was proper, and such siting does not present any unreasonable risk to the public health and safety.”
Gretchen Bennett said the city has prepared the ground at the site, but still needs to add fencing, power and lighting, and bring in the shelters.
“We are very pleased to see this next phase of the Center Street location moving forward,” said Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett (no relation to Gretchen Bennett) in a news release Wednesday. “Micro-shelters, like this one, are key to getting people into long-term, stable housing. It’s this transitional period that we, and our community partners, have found tremendous success in getting people the assistance they need.”
The Center Street site was one of three the council approved as potential locations for a new site to relocate Village of Hope.
Councilors at their June 13 meeting approved extending Church at the Park’s lease on the Portland Road site through Nov. 14. Gretchen Bennett said although sheltering is ending there in August, Church at the Park will continue to continue to use the property for administrative activities.
Micro shelters have been a recent strategy by city officials and Church at the Park to help homeless people in Salem move into stable housing and employment, but placing them has been difficult due to site planning challenges, neighbor complaints and a lack of funding to operate them. The city budgeted about $2 million to operate Village of Hope for fiscal year 2023, which began July 1, and $2.44 million for another Church at the Park-run micro shelter site at a Catholic Community Services property in northeast Salem.
The sites provide temporary housing with 24-hour security, restrooms, meals, peer support, trash services and on-site staff who help with medical needs, job applications and finding long-term housing. In the first year it was operating, about half of Village of Hope residents who left the micro shelter site went on to a better destination, like more permanent shelter, housing or inpatient rehab, according to Church at the Park data provided to Salem Reporter.
“I’m beyond thrilled that the ‘Village of Hope’ will be relocating to the Center Street location,” said Councilor Virginia Stapleton in the release. “The citizens of Salem have repeatedly told us that addressing homelessness is your top priority and this is one of the ways in which Council is responding to that mandate. I’m excited to see this location up and running.”
This story was updated with a statement from Riches Property Management.
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