Salem legislators failed to secure state money during the 2023 session for the operation of Salem homeless shelters and services, leaving the future of a key city priority uncertain.
City leaders said state funding was plan A for the ongoing operation of micro shelters and the newly-opened homeless navigation center, which have been paid for with federal Covid relief money slated to run out next year.
With no money coming from the 2023 legislative session, City Manager Keith Stahley and Mayor Chris Hoy said a tax on Salem workers remains the only route to sustaining those services.
Absent new funding, the micro shelters would close in June 2024 and the navigation center in June 2025, Stahley said.
Sen. Deb Patterson, a Salem Democrat, requested a total of $9 million in state money for Salem projects, including $2 million for navigation center operations and $3 million to sustain micro shelters.
“I was clear as a bell with everyone I talked to that it was absolutely urgent for Salem,” she said, saying her advocacy continued “until the gavel came down” to end the session June 25.
But the end of session “Christmas tree bill,” an Oregon tradition to fund special projects around the state, included just $2 million of Patterson’s request to renovate a west Salem preschool and the ARCHES Lodge, a shelter operated by the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency.
She said Republicans insisted on negotiations to end a Senate walkout behind closed doors, which meant senators outside leadership had little insight into what got cut and why. The result, Patterson said, was cities outside the Portland Metro area got very little.
Patterson pointed to the fact that many longtime legislators are no longer in the building, making it more difficult to get funding for Salem. Those include Republican Sen. Jackie Winters, who served as co-vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee until her death in 2019, and former Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat who retired last year.
“I am truly upset about this, and I am going to keep fighting for that funding,” said Patterson.
The navigation center offers short-term stays for up to 75 people and is intended to help them find stable housing while offering a safe bed, a warm shower, and access to healthcare and housing resources.
State and city leaders have thus far invested $15.5 million to get the center up and running, opening it in April despite not having funding to run it beyond 2024. It is estimated to cost $2.4 million to keep open each year.
The legislature has already put millions toward the project, so Stahley is confident they understand the need.
City leaders made requests to the legislature, employed a lobbyist, and made it clear to their representatives that funding for these shelters was a top priority.
“At the end of the day, it was their decision,” said Stahley.
Local legislators are hopeful state money allocated toward shelter and housing could still be used to fund Salem’s sheltering priorities.
Rep. Tom Andersen, a South Salem Democrat and former city councilor, said he’ll advocate for the city to receive money from a $200 million affordable housing package in HB 2001 and HB 5019. The region already received $10.4 million from HB 5019 for other housing and homelessness services.
Andersen said he was disappointed they were not able to secure more funding for these shelters at the end of the session, but he said these shelters are also just “one tree in a whole forest for how we are going to deal with this (homelessness) issue.”
Money from the bill has the potential to keep the navigation center open past 2025, however, Patterson said legislators told the city that they can not be funding long-term operations for the center.
Hoy said he was unsure how the city could get money from the statewide housing bills.
“I would love it if they were correct,” he said.
City leaders are continuing to pursue a tax on Salem workers, which the city council will consider adopting on July 10 without sending it to voters first.
If approved, the tax would cost the average Salem worker $42 a month and take effect next July. Money generated would go toward police and fire positions, as well as homeless services.
Stahley confirmed that funding for the navigation center and micro shelters are “an integral part of our public safety” and they are unlikely to get cut if the tax passes the city council.
Salem contracts with nonprofit provider Church at the Park to run micro shelters around the city. The first site opened in April 2021, the second in September 2022, and another is slated to open soon. Each site houses 60 to 75 people in total.
DJ Vincent, founding pastor and CEO of Church at the Park, said city leaders assured him that if the tax goes through, his organization will get a roughly five year contract to continue operating micro shelters.
Jimmy Jones, the CEO of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, which operates the navigation center, is hopeful legislators will be able to secure state money from the housing funding that passed during the 2023 session.
Jones points to the fact that there are several other potential sources for funding as a supplementary factor that made it challenging to advocate for more money in the legislative session.
Down the line, he’d like to see all Oregon navigation centers included as an expense in the state Housing and Community Services Department budget.
Despite the current lack of long-term financial support for the navigation center, Jones said that he, “would be surprised if funding didn’t continue through 2027 or 2029.”
Yet without current long-term stable funding, “people are right to have a little bit of anxiety around funding the program,” he said.
The Navigation Center now has 15 people staying there, and the agency will continue to fill the space over the next months. Jones said once that happens they plan to write quarterly progress reports, which could help prove the necessity of continued funding.
“The need is more urgent than it’s ever been,” said Jones.
Contact reporter Natalie Sharp: [email protected] or 503-522-6493.
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Natalie Sharp is an Oregon State University student working as a reporter for Salem Reporter in summer 2023. She is part of the Snowden internship program at the University of Oregon's School of Communication and Journalism.