Two women talk on a bench at the Equitable Center. The property is among five to receive new city grants to install security measures at downtown businesses. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Four new light poles stand guard over the parking lot of Q’s Corner Barbershop, bought and paid for with public money.
At night, owner Quandray “Q” Robertson said the lot “looks like a football field out there,” spotlighting any would-be trespasser. The lights are a success so far.
“I haven’t seen anybody go through there (lately),” he said Wednesday afternoon, gripping a buzzing razor in the main room of his downtown barbershop, overlooking customers’ parked cars.
Robertson thanks a new initiative at the city of Salem that wades into the sometimes-contentious relationship between downtown businesses and the area’s growing homeless population.
As the homeless population has grown, business owners say crimes like trespassing, drug use and fighting have risen, too. He said he calls the police “a couple times a week.”
“Eight, nine years ago it was maybe once a month,” said Robertson, who opened his barbershop 15 years ago. “It’s just picked up so much.”
The city’s Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force heard those kinds of statements when, last August, it recommended Salem create a grant program to “address issues relating to homelessness impacting downtown Salem.”
Enter the Strategic Grant Program. The grant gives downtown urban renewal dollars to help businesses pay for security cameras, lights, fencing and more.
It launched three months ago and already appears to be a hit with downtown businesses.
Five businesses have already received a combined $98,000. The project launched with a $100,000 allotment, so staff last week asked for another $75,000.
“Staff has received a lot of interest in the (grants) and understand several property owners are in the process of securing bids in anticipation of submitting an application,” wrote Sheri Wahrgren, the city's downtown revitalization manager, in a memo.
“Staff is supportive of increasing the funds in order to maintain the momentum of utilizing this program to make building improvements that reduce crime and increase safety and security for all downtown stakeholders.”
An office building at 494 State St. landed $9,768 for what will likely become a wrought iron fence in one of its alleys.
“We’ve been working with the neighboring property owner and the city to install a gate and install additional lighting in the alleyway to close it off and make it safer and less of an attraction for the homeless community to find shelter in,” said AJ Nash, principal broker at Legacy Real Estate, which bought the building a year ago.
The attorneys, financial advisers, marketers and other small businesses who work there are increasingly worried about going into the alley, Nash said.
“When they went to the alleyway to throw away their garbage, there was consistently feces they were stepping over. There were people in the alleyway. Most of the females, and even some of the males, just didn’t feel safe,” he said.
The sign at Q's Corner Barbershop in its parking lot, which is fenced in. New light poles can be seen to the right that are newly installed. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
At the Equitable Center, added security won’t just comfort tenants but also people going to eat at its restaurants along High Street Northeast.
“(The grants) are there to help make things more secure, that’s going to make downtown more vibrant,” said Laurie Miller, property manager. “If mom and pop from Dallas, Oregon, don’t feel safe downtown, they’re not going to come and shop.”
Miller said the Equitable Center already pays for a full-time security guard, but the $10,732 grant will pay for security cameras and fencing.
The Equitable Center doesn’t have a large problem with crime of any kind because she said the security guard and a zero-tolerance policy have kept the place safe.
“That’s what the police told us to do,” Miller said. “We had homeless people try to sit in our beautiful lobby. I don’t mean just homeless people… these are addicts, people on drugs.”
Besides the new lights, Robertson said his $22,180 grant will pay for a dumpster enclosure and better cameras.
Two other beneficiaries didn’t respond to requests for comment, including the owner of 440 State Street. That property, which state records say is registered to Christopher Matheny, received $44,780 for a trash enclosure.
All three business owners said they felt the security measures didn’t malign homeless people, but rather protected businesses against any perpetrator.
“It’s not even just the homelessness,” Miller said. She compared the security measures to keeping the doors locked at home. "If something has value, you want to protect it.”
Carole Smith, who owns 355 through 369 Court St. N.E., hired a security guard last week after one of her tenants was assaulted by someone sleeping in the doorway, she said.
Still, she said she wasn’t about to apply for the city’s grant.
“Explain to me how security cameras and gates help the homeless,” she said. “We don’t want to live in a prison.”
Smith said she felt the city money would be better spent on housing, drug treatment and mental health services.
“Let’s move toward helping people rather than protecting ourselves from them. That’s a waste of money, I think,” she said.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.
Quandray "Q" Robertson at work at the barbershop he's run for 15 years in Salem. From this room, Robertson said he can see people hop over his parking lot fence, among other problems. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Q's Corner Barbershop's parking lot. Owner Quandray "Q" Robertson said it's as bright as a football field when the new lights are turned on at night. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)