Salem now has a temporary shelter where 75 homeless people at a time can get help with mental health and addiction as they prepare to move out directly into housing.
The city’s long-awaited navigation center opened on Monday, April 24, at 1185 22nd Street S.E. Those staying at the facility, which is open round-the-clock, can receive treatment without having to worry about basic needs like eating, sleeping and showering.
The navigation center opened with great fanfare and a visit from Gov. Tina Kotek, who has pushed in recent months for an influx of funding to Oregon counties to address housing and homelessness.
The facility’s longtime future remains uncertain as the city has not publicly identified additional funding beyond the first two years of operations.
The navigation center will be the first such facility in Marion County. It’s intended to provide intensive case management that helps homeless people access government benefits, health care and permanent housing.
“We have finally cut the ribbon on what I’m calling our crown jewel of our homeless response system,” Mayor Chris Hoy said of the navigation center at a Salem City Council meeting on Monday, April 24.
The center won’t be a walk-in facility. Instead, people staying at the navigation center will primarily be referred through coordinated entry, which links local homeless service providers together through a common database with information about people seeking services and the type of help they need. The data helps identify if someone may be eligible for a specific program, or how vulnerable they are to continued homelessness.
Others would be referred from outreach programs and the Salem Housing Authority, or they would be leaving a hospital or other care facility, according to Ashley Hamilton, program director for the ARCHES Project, which is contracted with the city to run the navigation center.
Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said people who enter the coordinated entry system are given a vulnerability score based on factors such as medical conditions, addiction, mental health conditions or a history of being victimized on the street. He said people would typically be referred to the navigation center from the top down on that list.
“It’s a pretty complex process. But generally speaking, the people who are in greater danger of suffering outside, whether it’s death or victimization, are the ones that come to the front of the line,” he said.
The navigation center will have 75 beds, 15 of which will house people referred from law enforcement or outreach teams from providers like ARCHES and Northwest Human Services.
People can start moving into the center in a couple of weeks, Jones said.
The facility will start accepting people in cohorts of 20, “with varying levels of need for a smoother arrival process,” according to a video posted on the city’s Facebook page.
The navigation center costs $2.4 million annually to operate.
Funding sources for the facility include $3 million of federal pandemic relief money, $3 million from Marion County, $1.9 million from the state Legislature for construction and $5 million from the Legislature for two years of operation and unexpected costs during construction, according to city spokesman Trevor Smith.
A 2021 study by the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance found that 8% of homeless Oregonians live in Marion County, with high rates of chronic homelessness, according to a city statement.
Hamilton told Salem Reporter in October that the goal is to move people into housing within 90 days, but that timeline is flexible if the person is engaging with services and setting goals. She said the transition can take up to six months.
Residents leaving the center could move into the Arches Inn, Tanner Project if they are a veteran, an Oxford house for sober living or a private-market apartment rental, where they can continue receiving treatment. They can also return to the navigation center to receive treatment if they need it.
When people first arrive at the navigation center, their belongings will be heated in a sauna room that kills insects like bed bugs, fleas and lice, according to the video.
“Traditional shelter models require sobriety upon entry, segregate by gender, and offer little space for personal possessions or pets,” the city said in a statement.
The navigation center accepts everyone regardless of pets, partners, sobriety level or gender, but minors aren’t allowed.
Residents sleep in a shared space that’s visible from offices staffed 24/7. There is a smaller sleeping room for people with sleep apnea who need to plug in machines, as well as people who are often victimized or dealing with trauma.
Navigation centers also expand capacity on hot days and during cold winter months, lightening pressure on other cooling and warming sites, the city said in its statement.
Behavioral health staff will be onsite 24/7 at the facility, according to Hamilton.
The navigation center has group therapy rooms as well as a de-escalation room with a window that staff can monitor.
“A lot of times when we bring people in, they are really just overwhelmed with sights and sounds and movements and noise in particular. So sometimes, we have to put them in a little bit quieter place so that they can de-escalate and get some rest,” Jones said.
The center will also have case managers who talk with residents about their goals, and what life skills they need help developing. That could mean helping people ride the bus, make appointments and go grocery shopping.
“The center’s facilities provide places to work on things like job search and behavioral therapy, as well as places to relax, socialize and build their interpersonal skills,” the city said in a statement.
The facility has individual gender neutral bathrooms as well as separate men’s and women’s group facilities, where individual shower rooms have locking doors and some have toilets, according to the video.
There are two laundry rooms, one for the center and a second for residents that includes a pet washing station. The center also has restrooms and an outdoor area for smoking and pets, intended to reduce barriers to entry.
Beds at the facility include up to four locking boxes for underground storage.
The kitchen still needs to be completed, according to the video. The center will eventually have a day-use space that functions as a living room, with a dining room and commercial kitchen with three meals served a day.
Correction: This article originally included an incorrect figure provided to Salem Reporter for the navigation center’s operating cost. The cost to operate the center is $2.4 million annually, and will be $1.2 million for the remainder of 2023.
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
SUBSCRIBE TO GET SALEM NEWS – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!
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.