A shopping cart full of belongings at Cascades Gateway Park on Wednesday, May 27. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

City officials Monday said they would be taking a weekly zone-by-zone approach to clearing out Cascades Gateway and Wallace Marine parks as houseless camping comes to an end after more than a year.

They also alluded to several shelter options that councilors will be asked to fund at their June 14 meeting. But some of those options are months away from becoming reality, and they won’t have space for everyone currently camping in city parks.

About 500 people have been living in Wallace Marine and Cascades Gateway parks since the start of the pandemic, allowed under an emergency ordinance intended to limit the spread of the virus.

The Salem City Council on Monday unanimously voted to extend the emergency while removing the provision that allowed camping. Councilor Jackie Leung wasn’t present at the meeting.

Following a work session last week, Monday’s resolution included an additional paragraph that said, “complete elimination of camping in city parks and public areas, whether legal or illegal, is unlikely to occur in the near future” and that any reduction of camping will be gradual.

“It will be slow, and it will be gradual, and it will be expensive,” City Manager Steve Powers, told councilors Monday night.

Among the proposals are three new managed camps that will be run by Church at the Park.

They would be in addition to the existing camp on Portland Road that opened in April and has space for 48 people which includes car camping.  

DJ Vincent, pastor at Church at the Park and deputy director of the nonprofit Salem Leadership Foundation, told Salem Reporter the locations are in three different wards and could shelter up to 60 people at each site.

Vincent said they would either be Pallet shelters or structures made by Salem business High Impact Technology LLC. A May sheltering update provided to councilors puts the opening date at mid-July.

Powers also said he would ask councilors to fund part of the acquisition cost for a motel that will be turned into housing for more than 100 people through the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. That project is expected to come online by the fall.

Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, said she’s talking with the city’s engineering team about a proposed tiny home project that can be sited on a floodplain.

There’s also the possibility of continuing to use the former Union Gospel Mission site as a shelter when the mission relocates to its new location in June. The new men’s mission across from the Salem police station will double the shelter capacity in that space to 300.

Bennett told councilors the city would work cleaning up on particular “zones” in each park, starting with the overflow parking lot in Wallace Marine Park this week. There’s a softball game in the park this weekend and Bennett said that area was never intended for camping.

She said the city hasn’t determined how long clearing the parks will take but emphasized how important cleaning the parks will be.

“If you don’t remove the litter and the items that are not personal property, you risk having the camp repopulate,” she said.

Mayor Chuck Bennett asked Powers if houseless people will migrate back downtown.

Powers said the city would “encourage them to go through the steps necessary to be eligible for services.” He said that would also involve relocating people. 

The city can’t kick people off sidewalks because of a landmark Supreme Court ruling, Martin V. Boise, which ruled that cities cannot criminalize unsheltered people for sitting, lying or sleeping in public. 

Related coverage: Camping in Salem parks could end after Monday night council vote. But questions remain over timeline

As hundreds will be kicked out of city parks, a question remains: where will they go?

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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