SALEM, OR (KPTV) — Nearly a month has passed since the city of Salem banned homeless camping on public property, but its promise to add more warming shelter beds still hasn’t come to fruition.
Tuesday night, temperatures dropped to freezing as more than a dozen homeless men and women waited for Salem First Presbyterian Church to open its emergency shelter.
Theresa Workey told FOX 12 she skipped her night shift as a janitor to secure her bed at the church.
“It’s either have a bed or go to work,” Workey said. “It’s way too cold tonight – they’re calling for it to be in the 20s.”
Workey said she is “annoyed” that the city banned camping without expanding services for the homeless.
“They keep dropping the ball,” Workey said. “They promise a lot and they deliver very little.”
City Manager Steve Powers said the city has experienced obstacles in the effort to expand bed capacities with partner agencies. City Council approved additional funding to add paid staffing to volunteer-based shelters, but they couldn’t find a workable solution with local nonprofits.
“Since that time, we’ve been looking for alternatives – buildings that could be used for temporary shelter and that’s been a difficult search,” Powers said.
Powers said available buildings either didn’t meet safety standards, or the property owners were unwilling to lease spaces for a short-term rental through winter.
Councilors also considered opening a city-managed campground on city property but found that option too expensive.
Now, City Council will consider a different path and instead vote on an emergency ordinance that would allow the city to nearly double the beds at a women’s shelter and temporarily repurpose an existing city building – Pringle Hall – into an emergency shelter.
Councilors will also vote on whether to allow car camping in Salem.
“At churches, commercial property – with conditions – not in residential areas,” Powers said. “The site would have to have access to restrooms, garbage, noise limitations and some cap on the number of vehicles.”
Meanwhile, homeless individuals can still gather on public property, as they did Tuesday night along Liberty Street. The difference now is they just can’t pitch tents or store belongings for extended periods of time.
It’s the city’s way of cleaning up what officials call “unsanitary conditions” and an effort to appease the disgruntled business community.
Councilors are expected to pass the emergency ordinance at their Jan. 21 meeting.
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