Tents line the boulevard next to The ARCHES Project in downtown, where homeless residents have congregated in recent weeks. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

The Oregon House earlier this week passed a bill that’s intended to make it easier for cities to set up shelters for homeless people. But officials with the city of Salem say Oregon’s capital city has already moved ahead with implementing the goals of the bill by establishing two emergency shelters.

House Bill 2006 would require local governments to waive design, planning and zoning regulations when considering applications for the siting of emergency shelters. The requirement expires after 90 days.

During a special session in June, lawmakers passed a bill with similar requirements that also expired after 90 days. 

With the state continuing to struggle with its persistent problem with homelessness, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, is again seeking to make it easier to expedite the creation of emergency shelters.

 “Unfortunately, too many cities and towns still have had difficulty establishing locations for shelters due to complicated red tape,” said Kotek in a statement. “Those delays can cost people their lives, especially in the winter months. This bill will reduce many of these process barriers so we can get people into shelter quicker.”

Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said that the city has been ahead of other jurisdictions on this issue. 

Lisa Anderson-Ogilvie, the city of Salem’s deputy community development director, said the city approved two shelters last summer when siting requirements were temporarily relaxed: Safe Sleep, located at 1910 Front Street N.E., and Arches, located at 2640 Portland Road N.E. 

She said these shelters would have normally required a conditional use permit. The city had already approved Safe Sleep under an emergency declaration from Salem City Council in January last year, but the change to state law allowed the shelter to continue operating without a conditional use permit, she said. 

The city’s emergency declaration temporarily waives zoning restrictions for homeless shelters, car camping and warming shelters. It was amended to allow tent camping at 2640 Portland Road N.E. The declaration will expire in October unless it’s extended. 

“Additionally, the Planning Division just started work on potential code amendments that would create an easier process for the establishment of car camping sites, tent camping sites, micro shelters and warming shelters,” she said. The amendments could go before city council this summer, she said. 

House Bill 2006 is a key part of Kotek’s strategy for addressing homelessness. Kotek said in testimony in support of the bill that while there is an eviction moratorium in place and federal funds are on the way, lawmakers should keep an “emergency mindset” because of the shortage in emergency shelters. 

“We are still months away from a return to normal, and our unsheltered neighbors will continue to face enormous risks from the virus,” she said. 

Another part of the budget reconciliation bill passed by the Legislature includes $5 million to help Salem build a navigation center, a low-barrier shelter. 

The bill passed 54-4. The only member of the Marion and Polk counties delegation to vote against it was state Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence. 

The bill is being considered by the Senate. 

  Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

Salem Reporter counts on community support to fund vital local journalism. You can help us do more.

SUBSCRIBE: A monthly digital subscription starts at $5 a month.

GIFT: Give someone you know a subscription.

ONE-TIME PAYMENT: Contribute, knowing your support goes towards more local journalism you can trust.