Matt Herbert, navigation services manager for Church at the Park, at the door of a micro shelter at Village of Hope on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

About one out of four people leaving Salem’s first micro shelter village has gone on to permanent housing during its first year of operations, while a little over half have left for a “positive destination.”

Village of Hope, a micro shelter site in northeast Salem run by nonprofit Church at the Park, has served about 140 people since opening in April 2021 at 2640 Portland Road N.E., according to data the nonprofit provided to Salem Reporter.

Of those, 96 had exited the micro shelter village as of April 30, and 44 were still residents.

About half of the people who exited, 52 to date, left for a better destination, which includes an apartment, transitional housing, a shelter or inpatient treatment. Of those, 23 left for permanent housing.

The remainder includes people who left the shelter for their own reasons or were asked to leave Village of Hope for not following behavior expectations, or not progressing toward goals like housing or treatment, said Matt Herbert, navigation services manager. He oversees the case management team at the site.

The data provides a first glimpse at the effectiveness of one of Salem’s newest programs intended to get homeless people off the streets and out of encampments.

“As a baseline, we’re super proud. In the next year we’d like to see an increase of exits to permanent housing,” said Sam Dompier, chief housing and development officer for Church at the Park.

Church at the Park operates Village of Hope under contract with the city of Salem, which allocated $1.3 million to cover operations from its opening through the end of June, according to a contract. That’s about $1,600 per resident per month and the money comes from the city’s portion of federal Covid relief.

The village has rows of small shelters, 64 to 72 square feet, wired with electricity, that house two people on single beds. Portable toilets and sinks are available in a common area outside. With a late April expansion, the site now has space for 80 residents and a waitlist of 387.

A central building has offices for Church at the Park employees who work with residents on next steps.

A second micro shelter village run by the nonprofit at a Catholic Community Services site in northeast Salem has similar outcomes, Church at the Park data shows. Since that site opened Sept. 6, 2021, 122 adults and 69 children have stayed there.

Of those who have left, 58% went on to a positive destination, and 17% went on to permanent housing.

Herbert said Church at the Park prioritizes taking in homeless people who are “most vulnerable,” which means their clients aren’t necessarily the people easiest to house.

“We look at chronic health conditions, length of homelessness, age,” he said.

The micro shelters are low barrier, meaning people can bring pets and sobriety isn’t a requirement, though people living there are expected to follow rules.

Guests sign a set of community expectations when they arrive which includes a curfew and quiet hours and an expectation to work with case managers toward a plan to move on to a more permanent destination. Initial stays are 30 days, though they can be extended for people making progress toward their goals.

Herbert said it’s not unusual for residents to leave of their own accord without a shelter or other housing to go to, though Church at the Park doesn’t track how often that happens.

“Some people just get here and it’s really hard living with a roommate so there’s roommate issues, or they’re coming from no structure to a little bit more structure. Some of them have difficulty adjusting to that,” Herbert said.

Gretchen Bennett, the city’s homelessness liaison, said the city didn’t have a goal when it established the micro shelter program beyond giving people a safer place to stay. The city's annual homeless count in January 2021 identified more than 900 people without shelter within city limits, Bennett said, and the one-day count is notorious for undercounting the true number of homeless people.

The city hasn’t set benchmarks or expectations for the number of people who would obtain housing or move on to other locations, Bennett said, in part because the program was new and city leaders wanted to see how it worked before establishing targets.

“We initially were focusing on let’s just create alternative options to the parks and the sidewalks,” she said.

With the contract up in June, Bennett said the city is now discussing a renewal to cover at least through the end of August, when Church at the Park must vacate the Portland Road site. City leaders identified another property on Center Street as a replacement micro shelter site, but its future is currently uncertain due to a lawsuit by a neighboring apartment owner.

Micro shelter villages and camps are increasingly being used by cities in the West as an alternative to unmanaged campsites along roadways and in parks.

Dompier came to Salem after working in homeless services in Spokane, Washington, where she ran a large downtown shelter.

“I was super skeptical of trying micro sheltering,” she said.

But she’s come around after seeing how the relative privacy makes staying there easier for people, especially those with anxiety or mental health conditions who don’t react well to sharing space with dozens of other people in dorms or open rooms.

“People have space and they have a door that locks and they’re not jam packed inside,” Dompier said.

But micro shelter villages are relatively new and Bennett said there isn’t much data about typical outcomes.

A recent Portland State University study includes data for several similar villages, including a Clackamas County Veterans Village, which opened in October 2018 and shelters 25 to 30 homeless veterans. In the village’s first two years, 26 people staying in the village moved to permanent housing.

“I think it’s unfair to expect to exit the people living there into permanent housing fairly quickly,” said Jimmy Jones, director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. Community Action runs many of the region’s housing and homelessness programs, but isn’t involved in the micro shelter villages.

Jones that the length of time many residents have been homeless and the overall lack of affordable housing available in Salem makes finding housing difficult. He said he’s hopeful the villages can become a way to connect people with a more permanent place to stay, and he’s encouraged by the community support for the villages.

But sheltering is expensive, Jones said, and there’s always a question of whether it’s best to dedicate money toward temporary solutions like shelter over increasing the supply of affordable housing. There’s also the question of how Salem will fund micro shelter villages when its federal Covid relief funding expires in 2024.

“If it is a pathway for more people to go into (Union Gospel Mission) and the ARCHES Inn and Tanner’s Project or anything like that, I think it’s really successful,” he said, referring to other shelters and temporary housing options in the city. “In order for it to be successful, local government really has to help supporting it financially.”

Bennett said as the city continues work on micro shelter villages, whether to include outcome targets will be part of the conversation. Like the nonprofit workers serving with homeless people, Bennett said she’s concerned that a shortage of places for people to move on to will prove a barrier for some who are ready for their own apartment.

“Those things can take time and I always worry about the bottleneck that can occur where people get stuck in this mid step,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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