The city of Salem will have a new micro shelter village on Southeast Turner Road serving young adults by December.
The Salem City Council voted unanimously Monday night to spend $750,000 in state sheltering grant money to open the site at 2410 Turner Rd. S.E.
That money would pay for startup costs for the site and operations through June 2023, said DJ Vincent, founding pastor and chief executive officer for homeless service provider Church at the Park
Councilors had previously earmarked the grant money to start and operate a safe park program for homeless people on Southeast Front Street. But start-up costs for the parking program were too high to be feasible, an analysis by city employees recently found.
The city will redirect the money to open a micro shelter village with 40 beds serving people ages 18-24.
Vincent said he expects the new site will open by December.
The site will provide temporary housing with 24-hour staff who help with public benefits such as food stamps, birth certificates and housing assessments. They will also provide restrooms, meals and medical behavioral health support twice weekly.
“Because we own that property as Church at the Park, we have been working on that site plan for the last year, and it’s solid,” Vincent said at the meeting.
Over the past 12 months, he said there were 357 people aged 18 to 24 in Marion and Polk counties who could use the service. Of those, Church at the Park has served around 100.
Micro shelters have been a recent strategy by city leaders and Church at the Park to help homeless people in Salem move into stable housing and find employment, but placing them has been difficult due to site planning challenges, neighbor complaints and a lack of funding to operate them.
The Turner Street site is one of three the city council approved on Jan. 24 as potential locations for a new micro shelter site intended to replace “Village of Hope,” the city’s first micro shelter location.
Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, said at the meeting that Village of Hope would move to a new location on Center Street in September.
In the first year Village of Hope was operating, about half of residents who left the site went on to a better destination, such as more permanent shelter, housing or inpatient rehab, according to Church at the Park data provided to Salem Reporter. The site also had a long waitlist.
“We want to invest in things that are working in incredible ways and our community is doubling down on outreach,” Vincent said.
According to the meeting agenda, Church at the Park has received $290,000 in foundation grants and community donations for preparing the Turner Road site, which lowered the request to the city for start-up expenses. In addition to city money, Church at the Park will cover operational costs through a recent grant from the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance earmarked for serving homeless young people.
Vincent said at the meeting that Church at the Park plans to continue to “intensive outreach” near sidewalks and parks to help people staying there find the next-best place they can be.
Councilor Chris Hoy said opening the village would help “close the loop” on work they had promised residents at nearby Paradise Island Park, a mobile home community for seniors. It borders Cascades Gateway Park, which was closed for cleanup for about a year until late July after the city allowed unrestricted homeless camping in the park during Covid.
“I think that that’s really an important thing to start to bring some peace of mind and community back to that area, so I’m really glad that we’re able to do that,” Hoy said at the meeting.
Mayor Chuck Bennett and Councilor Vanessa Nordyke were absent.
Councilor Virginia Stapleton said she is glad after her two years on the council to see “a good ending here” before voting in favor of opening the micro shelter village.
“The folks who are struggling at Paradise Island and (Cascades Gateway Park) and not being able to use it, and just so many really hard situations happening,” she said at the meeting. “I’m excited to see this next step and to know that there’s so much support for it as well. It just makes my heart happy.”
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.