People sleep on mats at a warming shelter at First Presbyterian Church during a cold snap in 2019. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Update Jan. 14, 2:45 p.m.: The city of Salem announced in a press release Salem City Council will discuss declaring the emergency at a Jan. 21 meeting.
Salem City Council plans to take emergency action to add shelter beds to help people displaced by its camping ban that went into effect last month.
City officials hope to turn Pringle Community Hall, a city-owned building near downtown, into a temporary homeless shelter with more than 30 beds and add nine beds to the 10-bed women’s shelter Safe Sleep.
Councilor Chris Hoy made dual motions on Monday night that have staff start working to make those actions happen. The decisions, according to Hoy’s motion, could occur within the next two weeks. Salem City Council may have a special meeting next Tuesday, Hoy said.
Both motions called on Salem City Council to declare the situation an emergency. Such declarations allow the city to, for example, bypass months-long zoning and land use restrictions and allow shelters to be set up quickly.
If enacted, both situations would end March 31.
The moves are almost a do-over on the city’s original plan, which fell apart in mid-December. Salem's camping ban went into effect Dec. 13 and, to help people who would not be able to set up tents, officials planned to pay $213,000 to two churches to turn into seven-nights-a-week shelters from Jan. 1 to the end of March.
The plan, which would have brought on well over 100 shelter beds, fell apart due to a miscommunication. Homeless residents soon moved into downtown to stay under businesses' awnings and overhangs. The city recently declared two such areas a health hazard.
“We are in a crisis and I’m proud of city staff of bringing back this recommendation,” said Councilor Jim Lewis. “It will work in a short amount of time to bring us relief that we didn’t get under our original plan.”
The new plans will use the balance of that $213,000. One church, Church at the Park, did not back out of the plan and has added 14 new beds. But those costs, Hoy noted, are not all the city has done.
“Managing homelessness is really new territory for us but we spend literally millions of dollars housing folks at this point. Not that that’s enough, I’m not suggesting that, but we do… spend a lot of money on affordable housing, low-income housing, housing-first and we have more places coming online and I’m very excited about it,” Hoy said.
Pringle Community Hall is located in Pringle Park. The facility has an activity room, a smaller meeting room and a kitchen.
Safe Sleep, the women’s shelter at 1900 Front St. that could potentially add nine beds, has been filling up and turning women away, staffer Lynelle Wilcox told council Monday night.
“We’re seeing just people who are basically drenched, cold, wet, soaked through from the elements and we have to figure out which people we’re turning away because we have about 15 people regularly coming and we only have 10 beds,” Wilcox said.
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