The Salem City Council is moving forward with a plan to ban sitting and lying on public sidewalks — with provisions.
Councilor Cara Kaser made a motion to go ahead with the ban on Monday, Feb. 24, with a stipulation that it wouldn’t go into effect until an indoor or outdoor day facility provides shelter from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., the hours that would be regulated under the proposed ordinance. It would also keep the ordinance from kicking people out of the downtown exclusion zone for violating the ban and requires the city to come up with a plan to provide permanent restrooms.
Kaser, whose ward encompasses downtown and part of west Salem, said the issue has weighed heavily on her.
“When I wake up in the middle of the night, this is what I start thinking about,” Kaser said.
Councilor Jim Lewis, who called into the meeting, was the sole dissenting vote against the ban. Councilor Tom Andersen wasn’t present, but Jacque Heavey served as a guest councilor in his stead.
The vote came after councilors chose to revisit the controversial ordinance at their Feb. 10 meeting following months of increasing exasperation from Salem residents as homeless campers moved under downtown awnings following a camping ban in December.
Monday’s meeting was standing room only, as dozens of people signed up to speak on the topic.
Public testimony largely fell into two camps: those opposed to the ban because they consider it immoral and those in favor because they feel homeless campers are hurting business downtown by making shoppers feel unsafe.
During public comment, Patrick Carney said there’s a dream of bringing the former Nordstrom building downtown back to life, but that dream has been “stifled with the filth and the garbage and the chaos.”
One woman said shopper’s safety concerns pale in comparison to the violence homeless people experience.
“You have a house to go into. You’re not getting peed on,” she said.
Kaser said she hoped her proposal would strike a balance between the two sides.
“No one I talked to in this community is happy with what’s going on,” Kaser said. “Regardless of whatever action the city takes, many will not be happy in that decision.”
City Manager Steve Powers said the city will have plans at the council’s next meeting on March 9.
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