Becky Attenberger picks clothes, litter and other items off the ground at the camp that encircled The ARCHES Project. Attenberger said she is formerly homeless and arrived to help friends. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
The city of Salem on Wednesday cleared out tents and other structures from around The ARCHES Project, a social services provider located downtown.
The move came two days after a new city law went into effect, banning tents and other structures often by homeless resident for shelter from public property. A law that restricts people from leaving belongings unattended also went into effect Monday.
Several campers spoke with Salem Reporter on Tuesday and Wednesday morning about how they felt about the clean-up and what lay ahead in the weeks and months ahead.
This article contains some explicit language.
Anthony Stevens, 40, stands at the The ARCHES Project less than a day before the camp there came down. Stevens said the camp has been safer and better organized than previous camps. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Less than 24 hours before the clean-up, Anthony Stevens said he wanted to make sure other campers around The ARCHES Project didn't stress. For the most part, he said, the encampment had been one of the safer ones he'd seen.
"We'll take responsibility," he said. "We've been here almost a month and it's clean. Nobody's been hurt," he said.
About 40 people set up tents around the perimeter of the nonprofit organization's building downtown. In recent weeks, city staff have brought portable toilets and handwashing stations to help keep it clean. Code enforcers said in late November the camp neared being declared a health hazard.
Stevens, 40, said he isn't sure where he will go next. He has talked about moving camps to state property as a form of protest. His hope, however, is that the city designates property where people can camp legally. He made the case that the camps are cleaner than previous camps, like one under Marion Street Bridge that was cleared in January.
"We've proven we can follow rules," he said. "It's not going to be like it was under the bridge."
Otherwise, Stevens said he and other people will have to go into hiding. Stevens said he doesn't do well in groups, and that is part of the reason he doesn't use shelters available to him. He said he felt that people make judgments about the campers.
"I have some mental issues. I don't really fit into society very well. So I just try to stay away," he said. "They're not even taking the time to get to know us. There are a lot of people with mental health issues."
Donald Ray Martin, of Salem, sits in front of his camp at The ARCHES Project on Tuesday, hours after being alerted he had to take down his tent by Wednesday morning. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Donald Ray Martin sat in front of his tent on Tuesday afternoon, hopeful that a home he's been discussing with a friend might come to fruition.
The 51-year-old said he was one of the homeless residents in Salem who enrolled in the city's Homeless Rental Assistance Program that uses city dollars to help pay rent for chronically homeless people.
Martin, however, got evicted. He took much of the blame because he said he let a lot of other homeless people come stay with him.
"I could be in an apartment right now but I screwed off," he said. "I insisted nobody should starve, and they should shower. It bit me in the ass."
Martin has battled homelessness off and on since 2002, stemming from a drug addiction.
"My biggest downfall is my passion for the only bitch I've known and that's the drug methamphetamine," he said.
George Smith, 63, stands at The ARCHES Project's property less than a day before a camp there came down. Smith said he doesn't use shelters that will split him from his wife. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Drugs landed George Smith on the streets, too, and he ultimately joined the camp around The ARCHES Project. The 63-year-old said he spent years driving trucks and doing odd jobs to keep an apartment in north Salem.
"If it's hard work, I know how to do it," he said. "I was a high-functioning drug addict. I wasn't your typical drug addict staying home from work. I worked all the time and paid my bills."
He said he made a "stupid" mistake when he was arrested for delivery of methamphetamine in July. During his jail sentence, he said, he and his wife were evicted from their apartment. Now he said he's hopeful a person he knows in Dallas will offer them camp there.
Smith said he hoped to see a shelter arrive in Salem that he, his wife and their four pets could all use. Otherwise, he said he will continue to camp.
"I'm not willing to give up any of the members of my family to get out of the rain," he said.
Karyn B. stands outside The ARCHES Project while the camp around it is dismantled. Karyn said there is a lack of addiction treatment resources in the area. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Karyn, who gave only the last name B, said she lives with her sister temporarily and hopes to find housing soon through a rental assistance program. She said she had recently lived at Wallace Marine Park.
Karyn, too, said her addiction to methamphetamine contributed to her homelessness. She told Salem Reporter on Wednesday morning that she believes there isn't enough treatment for substance abuse in the region.
"They need to open more in-patient treatment centers," she said. "They have one — and that's supposed to help everybody."
Charles Dobson, 21, stands near the homeless camp that encircles The ARCHES Project. Dobson said he's unsure where he will go until warming shelter hours expand. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Twenty-one-year-old Charles Dobson told Salem Reporter he will stay in the warming shelters when they open, but said he often finds other shelters full.
"There's nowhere else for us to go," he said. "I'm hoping that either tonight, tomorrow or the next day they reactivate warming centers because that will give us somewhere to go, get warm, get a meal."
There are about 330 shelter beds currently available between several organizations, such as the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission of Salem. Organizations place different kinds of restrictions on who can use those beds, what they can bring inside and more.
Daniel Alvarado, 58, originally of Woodburn, cleans up his campsite near The ARCHES Project on Wednesday. Alvarado is homeless because he said he did not want to work anymore after 40 years. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
After half a month at a campsite near The ARCHES Project, Daniel Alvarado spent Wednesday morning packing up. He said that he wished he had more time and he has no long-term plan for shelter.
"I'm trying to get an apartment," he said.
A camper who asked her face and identity withheld packs garbage bags in her tent. Many contained her belongings. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
A city of Salem Public Works truck parked at Marion Square Park, across the street from an encampment that encircled The ARCHES Project. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
The boulevard pictured along Commercial Street Northeast where tents had been staked. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)