The future site of Salem's navigation center, now a vacant building located at 1185 22nd St. S.E. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Salem could soon have a navigation center that will help people experiencing homelessness transition into permanent housing.

A navigation center has been floated for years, but this year the project got a boost from the state Legislature and from funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, federal Covid relief money approved by Congress in March.

The Oregon Legislature in May allocated $5 million to fund two years of the center’s operations. The city of Salem is using $3 million of its federal relief money to buy a vacant building at 1185 22nd St. S.E. for $2.75 million.

The rest of the money will pay for property taxes and site improvements.

Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said they still need to sign a contract with the city for the navigation center. He said it would likely open sometime this winter.

Jones said he’s had his eye on that building for years because it has a massive floor area for bunks and offices where they can do case management work connecting people with housing.

The facility would be open 24 hours a day to help people with housing and other more immediate basic needs, such as toilets or potable water.

Jones said it’s meant to be short-term shelter for 35 to 40 people, where they are able to stabilize for two to four months until they get into housing.

“At the end of that period what you have is a dedicated bed and an apartment lined up for them,” he said.

Jones said it’s not shelter for the sake of sheltering people. The goal is to reduce the homeless population permanently.

“If it’s just a shelter, then we’re just warehousing people,” he said.

Jones said housing people is the least flashy solution to homelessness because it doesn’t have the visible impact that a shelter has.

“The problem with housing is that it’s invisible. You can’t really tell when you take one person out of a group of 60. It still looks like the same group,” he said.  

A study published by the state of Oregon in 2019 recommended that Salem build the center as a stop-gap to help it get a better handle on its rising problem with homelessness.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said the center is badly needed in the capital city to connect people to housing.

"We have been way behind compared to some places the state. Salem has been very conservative for asking for help,” he said.

Other Oregon cities like Portland already have navigation centers offering similar services.

“Other communities have had one for years, so it’s basically a catch-up to other communities," Courtney said.

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

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