Jorge Jiminez, 40, who formerly lived in the Market Street camp, returned on Monday, July 19, 2021 to help clean as the Oregon Department of Transportation began a sweep. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
John Puckett and Adam Alderson wheeled a grocery cart piled high with tarps west on Market Street Monday morning.
The pair was moving Puckett’s belongings as Oregon Department of Transportation workers began clearing the camp that’s been a home for dozens of Salem’s unsheltered residents since the early days of the Covid pandemic.
Puckett, 32, said he and a few friends from the camp had pooled their money to get a motel room for three nights. He wasn’t sure where he’d store his tent, blankets and other belongings while staying there - or where he would go after the motel stay ran out.
Alderson, 33, said his wife had moved many of their possessions to an “undisclosed location” where he hoped they could camp without being disturbed. He said the Market Street camp has been dangerous at times, with fights, a shooting and passing drivers screaming obscenities.
But the Interstate 5 overpass that provided shelter from the weather was also a place of community where people looked out for each other.
“We’re very alone - all we have is each other,” Alderson said. “We just feel really forgotten.”
Adam Alderson, 33, helps load his friend's belongings into a shopping cart along Market Street in Salem on July 19, 2021 as the two prepared to vacate the camp during a state sweep. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Both men described themselves as addicts and said it’s difficult to get or stay clean when they’re living where drug use is rampant. While Salem has a handful of shelter beds for men at locations including the Union Gospel Mission, the few managed campsites in Salem that allow couples to stay together are full.
Alderson said he was frustrated by the piles of trash and debris that had accumulated at the Market Street camp, but said Salem residents need to understand that options for staying clean are limited when people live under an overpass with no garbage bins or toilets.
“There was no water, no shower, nothing,” he said.
He worried that the memorial set up for Tammy Federici, a 40-year-old woman who died in April while living in the camp, would be swept away during the cleanup. A signpost on the south side of the street had her name spray painted on the back with a green bandana and flower dangling from the post. At the sign’s base lay a trio of candles and other items.
A memorial to Tammy Federici, a 40-year-old woman who died at the Market Street camp in April 2021, remained the morning of July 19, 2021 after most campers had left ahead of a planned state sweep of the property. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Social workers helping the campers estimated that about 125 people lived between the overpass and the grassy hill on the east side of the freeway exit.
By Monday morning, only a few people remained, packing up their belongings as a few state employees looked on, standing on the nearby sidewalk.
Any personal items recovered will be stored at the the state agency’s Salem facility at 885 Airport Rd. S.E. for 30 days, according to spokeswoman Angela Beers Seydel said. Owners can call 503-986-2887 to check if their items are there and arrange an appointment to pick them.
The transportation department plans to sweep camps along Salem Parkway later in the week after they finish cleanup at the Market Street site, spokesman Lou Torres said. He expected the Market Street cleanup to take about three days.
Jorge Jiminez, 40, said he’d lived under the overpass for about six months, but left weeks ago after the camp became crowded and more dangerous.
Speaking in Spanish, Jiminez said he was attacked and hit in the head a few weeks ago by someone he didn’t know who came into the camp to start trouble.
“They hit me for no reason,” he said.
Jiminez works as a roofer but said it’s sometimes too expensive for him to get to jobs. Since leaving Market Street, he’s been bouncing around, staying with friends.
He returned to the Market Street camp Monday morning to clean, sweeping stray items into a large pile.
John Puckett, 32, loads a motor he had hoped to build a scooter with into a shopping cart while clearing his possessions from the Market Street camp in Salem on July 19, 2021. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
At the Denny’s just east of the overpass on Market Street, workers with about a dozen social service agencies and nonprofit organizations worked from tents in the parking lo to help some of the people being displaced.
Robert Marshall, program coordinator for The ARCHES Project, said the agency’s outreach workers were trying to get updated contact information for people so can find clients when housing opens up for them.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty. People don’t really know where to go,” Marshall said.
By 10 a.m., about 30 camp residents had stopped by, said Gary Schreck, who serves on the board of Be Bold Street Ministries.
Most were planning to camp somewhere else, he said.
“It’s like any other sweep you have. People are gonna go where they go, where they feel safe,” he said.
Tents, personal belongings and trash remain on the south side of the Market Street overpass in Salem as the Oregon Department of Transportation began a camp sweep on July 19, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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