Tents line the boulevard next to The ARCHES Project in November. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

It’s been six weeks week since Salem banned camping on public property and Salem City Council is no closer to finding a dry place to sleep for the people who have taken up residence downtown.

On Monday, the council heard once again that a low-barrier shelter, which has lower sobriety standards and allows people to bring their pets or partners with them, wouldn’t come to fruition.

Last week, councilors asked staff to again explore potential properties for shelters after opting out of a plan to turn Pringle Community Hall in southeast Salem into a temporary, 37-bed shelter.

That, and an emergency declaration, came after weeks of searching for a temporary shelter yielded no good solutions; officials blamed NIMBYism and landlords unwilling to lease a building for 90 days.

READ: Officials say 'NIMBYism', zoning and unwilling landlords sink search for Salem emergency shelter

The council on Monday set a plan in motion to temporarily allow public camping outside of residential neighborhoods, city parks and downtown.

City Manager Steve Powers said staff recommended against relaxing the ban and urged councilors to focus on more permanent solutions.

“Without management of that site we would be creating, based on past experience... creating a condition that would be very problematic and one that the city would have to respond to,” Powers said.

The city staff report said that modifying camping restrictions would create a proliferation of tents, like the encampment near ARCHES last month, and lead to a health hazard that the city would have to clean up.

“Lifting the camping restrictions in certain areas, such as industrial areas, could result in the relocation of unsheltered individuals from the downtown core and other areas, but would substantially impact properties and neighborhoods in or near industrial areas,” the report read.

Some councilors felt that they had essentially given up on trying to address the issue of homeless campers downtown.

“We ought to do something,” said councilor Tom Andersen, who brought up the amended camping idea. “And we don’t want camping, tenting, sitting downtown. It’s not a good situation for the public.”

“The question for me is it time to think about supporting those folks at a little higher level,” councilor Jim Lewis said.

City staff looked at two separate properties as potential low-barrier shelters: Marion County’s Juvenile Detention Facility, which is currently vacant, on 3030 Center St. N.E. and a vacant building on 1185 22nd St. S.E.

The first option was nixed because of safety concerns for nearby at-risk youth.

Powers said The ARCHES Project, a homeless service provider, didn’t want to mix juveniles in custody with individuals who may have had trauma or experience preying on vulnerable individuals.

The second option would take more than 90 days to get a conditional use permit.

Powers said councilors should focus their efforts on next winter.

“I won’t say we’ve exhausted all possibilities for this winter, but it really is becoming a real opportunity cost for us,” Powers said. 

Correction: This article misspelled the name of city councilor Tom Andersen.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.