Rachel Miller, left, and Matt Herbert, right, survey people for the annual point in time count. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Snow started to fall as outreach workers trudged through the mud next to the Market Street overpass, handing out sandwiches to outstretched hands reaching through tent openings.

The frigid weather had kept most people staying warm inside their tents as ARCHES staff and volunteers asked questions for an annual count that will affect the amount of federal funding flowing into the region for homeless services.

“Hey, it’s ARCHES. Did you get a lunch?” Matt Herbert called to dozens of tents set up under the overpass.

Carla Cheuvront was bundled in a thick Carhartt jacket as Ben Turner handed her a sleeping bag and flashlight.

For a few minutes Turner asked her questions about her life: how long she had been homeless, where she slept, and if her homelessness was tied to Covid or a natural disaster.

Homeless advocates believe there are more unsheltered people in Salem than ever because of homelessness brought on by job losses because of Covid and the wildfires that devastated the Santiam Canyon.

The annual point in time count is an effort to provide a snapshot of homelessness across the country, required by the federal government to receive federal money. But it’s known to historically undercount the homeless population because of the difficulty locating people. On Tuesday, outreach workers were hampered by some who didn’t want to come out of their tents into the cold.

Herbert and four others were part of a team counting and surveying those living on the street in north Salem.

Under the overpass, Donna Megi was talking to a homeless veteran sitting on a rug in front of his tarped tent under the overpass.

As Megi walked away, tears welled in her eyes. She had decided to drive to Salem from Corvallis to volunteer for the count because she wanted to know why so many people were experiencing homelessness and what was being done about it.

In Salem, the homelessness crisis has become increasingly visible as the city allowed camping in Wallace Marine Park and Cascades Gateway to prevent Covid spread and tent camps have formed near Market Street, Portland Road and Salem Parkway.

Ashley Hamilton with ARCHES said her agency will continue the count for another six days, making sure to catch those living in hotels, at shelters and in far-flung parts of the city.

Numbers for the count are usually finalized in late spring, Hamilton said. 

Rachel Miller and Donna Megi survey Jessica Hickock for the annual point in time count of the area's unsheltered on Jan. 26, 2021. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Matt Herbert offers a man a sleeping bag during the annual point in time count on Jan. 26, 2021. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Rachel Miller and Matt Herbert walk into a field near Interstate 5 for the annual count of Salem's unsheltered on Jan. 6, 2021. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

ARCHES staff walk into a field for the annual point in time count on Jan. 26, 2021. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

ARCHES staff and volunteers went under the Market Street overpass for the 2021 point in time count on Jan. 26, 2021. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

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

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