A row of pallet shelters under construction on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem plans to use a quarter of its $32.9 million share of federal Covid relief funds to address its persistent homelessness crisis.

On June 28, the Salem City Council will adopt the city’s budget that’ll include the additional funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, federal Covid relief money approved by Congress in March. Among the items in the budget are $8.1 million that’ll go toward a range of projects including turning a motel into a shelter and supporting managed camps.  

The biggest ticket item is a long-sought after navigation center, which will provide up to 50 low-barrier shelter beds with case management and access to basic needs like toilets and drinking water.

Last month, the Oregon Legislature allocated funding for two years of its operation. The city is in the process of buying a building for $2.75 million in southeast Salem for the center.

Under current plans, the Union Gospel Mission site downtown will continue to be used as a shelter once the mission moves into its new location across from the Salem police station this summer. The city plans to use $1.9 million to fund six months of its operation and will serve 70 people through March 2022. The shelter would be run by the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, a social services nonprofit.

Church at the Park, another nonprofit focused on homeless people, is currently running a managed camp at 2640 Portland Road N.E., with 37 people living in temporary shelters made by the company Pallet and 18 living in their vehicles at the site.

The city’s budget will include $375,000 so the nonprofit can continue operating the Portland Road site until March 2022. Another $200,000 would go toward making the building onsite into shelter for 25 people.

So far, the managed camp has seen some success.

DJ Vincent, pastor at Church at the Park, said four people have gotten into housing and 10 have found jobs since the shelter site opened in April.

He said people living there keep saying that with a safe place to store their belongings and rest, they’ve been able to get jobs or access housing opportunities.

“I think all 55 people would say they feel more safe. This is more sanitary space. It’s supportive of these life improvements,” he said.

The city’s budget will also include $540,000 to turn the parking lot across the street from City Hall in the 500 block of Commercial Street S.E. into safe parking for RVs and other vehicles.

Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, said the site would be run by Church at the Park with staff and security onsite. The budget proposal was originally written with the idea of placing shelters there, but Bennett said the lot isn’t sloped right. She said the amount budgeted could change.

Bennett said there’s also discussion about turning a property on 3737 Portland Rd. N.E., owned by Catholic Community Services, into another managed camp run by Church at the Park. The city proposed spending $1.1 million on the new site which would serve 148 people through a combination of indoor and outdoor space. It includes the cost of buying 30 outdoor shelters at a cost of $150,000.

Bennett said there’s still work to do on each proposed location.

The city is chipping in $500,000 towards a motel purchase that will be turned into shelter for up to 120 people when it’s fully operational.

The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency is spearheading the project and is moving forward with buying the Super 8 motel on 1288 Hawthorne Ave. N.E. for $5.95 million. The bulk of the funding is coming from Project Turnkey, a state program to acquire distressed motels or hotels for use as non-congregate shelter for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

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

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