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

A vacant lot along Wallace Road in west Salem could soon be the site of temporary shelters for seniors experiencing homelessness.

On Monday night, the Salem City Council unanimously approved a recommendation that would allow City Manager Steve Powers to establish a managed, temporary camp at 2700 Wallace Road N.W., a city-owned lot.

The decision came after hundreds of public comments about the proposal, with most opposed to the idea, citing the lack of nearby services, and the camp’s proximity to apartments, a senior community and schools.

The site is intended to serve up to 60 people who are 55 and older with funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which has to be spent by the end of 2024.

Project costs are estimated at $87,000 for site preparations, $150,000 to buy microshelters and $96,000 per month for operations, according to a staff report.

The site would be managed by Church at the Park, a nonprofit social service provider that manages other camps around Salem.

Councilor Jim Lewis, who represents west Salem, initially asked for the proposal to be sent back to staff for a more thorough report and for neighbors within a quarter mile of the site be notified.

Most said they only found out about the project a couple days before it was set to go before the council for approval.

“As a resident living near Wallace Road and Brush College Road, I only found out (Sunday) that without notice or resident input, a homeless camp is being planned for the parking lot at this corner. And at an incredibly huge cost of $96,000 a month!” wrote Patrick Featherstone in public comment.

He said the common denominator among the hundreds of emails council received was the lack of knowledge about what the managed camp was.

“When you talk to people in west Salem about homeless camps they immediately think of Wallace Marine Park. They don’t have the understanding of what happened at the Fairgrounds, Portland Road. That information needs to be disseminated to the west Salem community,” Lewis said.

He was referring to a managed camp at the Oregon State Fairgrounds that ran for two months and gave more than 100 people a tent and a dry place to sleep.

During Monday’s meeting, DJ Vincent, a pastor who runs Church at the Park which operated the fairgrounds camp, said 10 people were housed and 21 were able to get jobs as a result of the project.

After that closed, the church opened a managed camp in a former DMV lot on Portland Road with two-room Pallet shelters under a contract with the city.

Vincent said 85 people have stayed at that site since it opened, nine of whom found permanent housing and 16 of whom found jobs.

Church at the Park is in the process of opening another temporary shelter on Catholic Community Services’ property intended to focus on women and children.

The west Salem development is the latest proposal intended to curb the worsening homelessness problem in Salem. An increasing share of Salem’s population consider homelessness to be the biggest issue facing the city, according to an annual survey.

The city has a goal of siting a temporary shelter in each of the city’s eight wards.

Gretchen Bennett, Salem’s homelessness liaison, said the site will need to work through some issues. She said they need to order microshelters, fencing and port o potties, but aren’t’ sure if there will be delays with the supply chain.

Lewis said despite some comments from residents saying they don’t want a camp in west Salem at all, he doesn’t believe that’s the true sentiment of Salem.

“Communication is important to get the buy in. There’s confusion there,” he said.

Councilor Virginia Stapleton said her neighborhood had concerns about the Portland Road managed camp that were put to rest through the experience of seeing it.

“I’m not sure there was anything I could have said beforehand that would have eased things,” she said. “Winter is coming, and I feel we need to move on things. Any kind of delay for me is hard to think about but I also understand your need for more communication. I think both of those things could go simultaneously.”

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke said the biggest fear was the inaccurate assumption there would be no security at the site.

Vincent said there would be a trained security person onsite 24 hours a day. He also said residents would be vetted through a system – it’s not a drop-in site.

He said there were 357 people on waiting list, but didn’t know how many of those were 55 or older. He didn’t specify how residents would be vetted other than by age.

Nordyke said shelters are a proven way station from temporary shelter to jobs and permanent housing.

“Do we want them on the streets, or do we want them in a managed campsite where there is safety, security for everyone involved themselves included?” she said. 

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

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