Punx in the Park returns to give Salem’s young people a voice

It’s an idea integral to punk culture: when someone gets knocked down in the pit, you reach out a hand to help them back up.

That’s the mission behind Punx in the Park, a resource fair paired with a concert lineup that brings the perspectives, needs and experiences of Salem’s homeless youth to the main stage.

On Saturday, Sept. 16, organizers have planned a bigger event with more resources, youth guest speakers and a punk-rock lineup selected by young people in the community. The concert and services will be at the Marion Square skate park, 551 Commercial St. N.E., from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The idea came from Hailey Kelley, a local adolescent substance abuse counselor. This past year, she and James Kelley, Becka Brisbin and Shawn Cruz co-founded Punx with Purpose: a non profit that seeks to change the landscape of local youth services with a unique punk rock approach. 

Both Brisbin and Kelley know from experience how important it is to feel heard when seeking services as a homeless youth. Brisbin said young people are some of the most underserved demographics in the area, and many resource fairs felt like a place to pick up a few things and go home rather than to build community.

“When I was homeless when I was a kid, I’d go to the Portland shelter and get a toothbrush, but I just wanted to shower and I wanted to bail. I didn’t want to hang out. My friends didn’t like going,” she said.

Punx in the Park meets young people at their level. It’s what sets the event apart, she said. Last year’s event was a hit, with over 300 youth showing up to enjoy music and get a free meal, free clothes, toys and connections to services. 

They hope to help even more young people this year, with more food trucks and resources.

This year’s event was made possible by dozens of volunteers, including the six bands playing free of charge. The Doug Fury’s from Salem are the headliner, and will be joined by local bands Happy Death Men, Wild Ire, Boundless Joy, Sunwell and Andromeda.

The bands were selected through an online vote, with bands submitting videos. It had a dual purpose: the questionnaire also asked Salem youth what resources they wanted to see more of.

“What a difference, I have to say, in the survey results from the adults in their 30s to what the youth wanted. And we all think we know what the youth want,” said Cruz. “And I think that’s a mistake we want to avoid.” Beyond selecting bands, the youth gave input on wanting safe spaces to gather and homework help.

That idea will be continued at the fair itself, which will have a “dream station” to encourage young people to share their ideas for the future, year-round work of the new nonprofit.

Punks of all ages were enjoying the music at the Punx in the Park event held at Marion Square Park Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

There will be around 60 resource booths this year, providing information on housing, education, employment and mental health care.

A new addition this year is Kaitlin’s House, a medically supervised detox treatment center in Springfield, Oregon that helps teens abusing alcohol, marijuana, prescription pills and other drugs. It’s one of few available to youth in the state, Hulsey said, and accepts the Oregon Health Plan.

The non-profit also collected over 500 donated backpacks throughout the summer, and people coming to the event can fill a backpack with the available donated supplies and write a note to the young person who will get it. It saves the organizers the time of loading up all the backpacks, and will give a student an encouraging start to the new school year.

The backpacks will be given to students who are homeless or otherwise in need in the Salem-Keizer School District.

“This is going to be an instant way that you are impacting the youth, without a doubt,” Cruz said.

Beyond providing supplies for youth, a major goal of the event is to give them a platform and raise awareness about what they’re going through. Youth speakers will talk between the bands’ performances, including two from Harmony Academy, a recovery high school in Lake Oswego.

“That’s the most powerful part of this whole thing, is that we’re not barking at you about the problem. We’re letting the youth tell their stories,” Cruz said.

Community is what punk is all about. It was Brisbin’s lifeline growing up. 

“My homelife was real crap. And they told me, you know ‘those kids that you hang out with, they’re just going to be your downfall,’ Brisbin said. “Those kids are still my friends. Those kids fed me, those kids clothed me, those kids gave me a place to crash.”

She’s since lost half of her crew to addiction and young deaths, she said. Those that are left still lean on each other.

“To me, that is what punk rock is all about. It’s having a family and being able to just be yourself and be accepted as you are. It’s not about spikes and studs and leather jackets or whatever. It’s just about that community of ‘I see you, and I’m here for you, and I’m going to be there for you,’” she said.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.