Betty Jordan is the Salem Housing Authority's new navigator, helping bridge a needed service gap. (Courtesy/ Betty Jordan)

Betty Jordan spends her days driving around Salem looking for people living in camps.

She recently came across a woman living in a field behind Lowe's.

Jordan, who works as a navigator for the Salem Housing Authority, asked the woman if she’d had filled out an assessment to determine if she qualified for housing.

The woman believed she had been approved to live at Redwood Crossing, a new housing complex run by the housing authority that offers rent vouchers for those who are chronically homeless.

Jordan called her office and found out that they had been looking for the woman. She had a unit waiting for her at Redwood and Jordan set up an appointment that would allow her to move in.

“She was so overjoyed she was crying. She had no idea she was walking into an appointment. Had we not been out in the field she wouldn’t have known, and she’d still be out in the street,” Jordan said.

Jordan is acting as a needed bridge in Salem by connecting people experiencing homelessness to the resources offered in the city. Oftentimes, social service providers lose track of clients because they move around and don’t always have a phone, a way to charge one or enough data to use it.

Jordan said it’s needed help for people living in “survival mode” who usually don’t know what time it is, making it difficult to arrive at appointments on time.

She started working in Salem’s homeless camps in September and said she’s met hundreds of people in the last few months. She tries to learn their names and build rapport.

Jordan said follow through is key to her position, because people will feel hopeless if they don’t hear back from her.

Nicole Utz, administrator at Salem Housing Authority, said her agency wanted to create the new navigator role as campers were posted up under the awnings around Rite Aid last winter.

Utz said they were trying to identify different campers to see if they were connected to resources and if they had been screened for housing needs.

She said the housing authority often gets calls from Salem police or firefighters requesting help dealing with a person experiencing homelessness. Until recently, Utz said her agency didn’t have someone to respond in the moment because other employees are tied up with meeting clients or landlords.

Before Jordan, Utz said “they would just be a file that sat there and sat there, and they weren’t being connected to.” She said the housing authority could use six to ten more navigators.

Jordan was a family coach with the self-sufficiency program at the Department of Human Services before she heard about the navigator position.

“When I heard about this program, for me it was kind of a calling. This is exactly what I want to do,” she said.

Her work isn’t just connecting people to housing. It can be as simple as offering a pair of clean socks to someone.

In one camp, Jordan said she helped 10 people apply for food benefits.

But the task can seem daunting at times. Nonprofits estimate there are between 1,300 and 1,800 homeless residents in Marion and Polk counties.

“Again, there are so many homeless people that need assistance. And there’s only one of me. It’s just again, trying to connect those dots. It does it get overwhelming at times because there’s so many people, you try not to spread yourself too thin,” she said.

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

OUR HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Save 25% and support careful, in-depth reporting on your community.