Peace Plaza, between Salem City Hall and the Salem Public Library, is among the city sites under consideration for a new micro shelter camp. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

About a dozen people gathered for a forum at Broadway Commons Thursday night to learn more about a few proposed micro shelter locations in Salem.

The city is proposing the new sites, which would be run by nonprofit Church at the Park, to address the homelessness crisis with 64-square foot shelters intended for transitioning out of living in a tent or car.  

Community members helped raise more than $600,000 to purchase the shelters, but the city has struggled to find viable land to place them. There are about 400 people on a waiting list to get into the shelters.

Church at the Park operates two micro shelter sites, both on Northeast Portland Road.  

The city is proposing four additional locations and has been gathering feedback through a series of forums. The last one is on Jan. 19 from noon to 1 p.m. on Zoom.

The city is considering Peace Plaza, the city-owned space between the library and City Hall, at 555 Liberty Street S.E. It is also considering locations at 2410 Turner Road S.E. (property owned by Church at the Park), 1280 Center Street N.E. and the northwest corner of Northeast Front and Hood Streets (property owned by Truitt Brothers).

One of the main concerns raised at Thursday’s forum was about trash.  

Teri Finch, who lives near the proposed site on Center Street, said she came to the forum because of concern for her property and for the homeless.  

Finch said trash is what bothers her the most. She frequents the Safeway at least once a week, picking up trash and offering money to others to help her.  

But she described seeing trash accumulated as “living in a dystopian place.” 

She said she has mixed feelings about the proposed site.

“I’d like to believe it’s going to be managed well and it’s going to be a positive impact,” she said. 

Finch said she wants the micro shelter project to be successful, especially if it means less trash in her neighborhood, but she always wants to see other areas of the city shoulder the burden of the villages.

“The city needs to dig deep and find a place in south and west Salem. It’s not fair to dump everything on the shoulders of northeast Salem,” she said.

State Rep. Chris Hoy, a Salem Democrat, plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session intended to help address the lack of available space to site the shelters. Hoy is also a Salem City Councilor.

House Bill 2047 would require the state Department of Administrative Services to work with the city to fast-track the siting and implementation of micro shelter communities on underutilized state land. 

“We have micro shelters ready to go but we need locations to put these shelters. Leaving people on the streets when we don’t have to is unconscionable. Shelters with wraparound services are one of the most effective tools we have to get people the support they need to transition to a permanent residence,” Hoy said in a statement.

Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, said the city has been actively trying to address the garbage issue.

She told the people at the forum there are more than 1,000 people living outside without trash receptacles.

Bennett said the city is considering having dedicated staff to cleaning garbage around the city.

The micro shelter villages have garbage receptacles.

One of the forum members said he was concerned about the Peace Plaza location, where the city is proposing to put 20 shelters. He said if shelters were in the middle, it would “be like a zoo.” 

DJ Vincent, who runs Church at the Park, said people living in the shelters are generally quiet during the day, at their job or sleeping.

“People are not hanging out,” he said.  

In that location, fencing would go around that space so people could still walk on the east and west sides of the plaza. The city would also likely need to use the parking lot across the street from the plaza and offices in the lower levels for case management. 

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

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