Salem Council Poised to Declare Housing Emergency

Posted on January 14, 2020

Salem, Ore. — Salem City Council plans to declare a housing emergency at a Council meeting Tuesday, January 21, 2020, to increase temporary shelter options for those experiencing homelessness in Salem.

Declaration of an emergency will allow the Council to temporarily suspend certain land use provisions to:

  • Utilize Pringle Hall as an overnight shelter for up to 37 people
  • Increase capacity of the United Way’s Safe Sleep Shelter for women
  • Allow car camping on private property with the owner’s permission

On Monday, January 13, Councilors unanimously approved advancing these options with the potential for emergency implementation. The City has repeatedly called for a community-wide response in addressing the diverse challenges of homelessness and helping our unsheltered neighbors. Ideally, the City Council would like to see private property owners fill the shelter gap and allow Pringle Hall to remain an active community event venue.

Pringle Hall Shelter

City staff looked without success at a wide range of building options for additional shelter beds. City-owned Pringle Hall is the most viable near-term choice available. The building in Pringle Park on Church Street SE, has the capacity to shelter up to 37 people. It also has restrooms and kitchen facilities.

This strategy could be implemented quickly without all the barriers experienced with private facilities.

Under zoning laws, a temporary shelter at Pringle Hall is not allowed. To use it as a shelter, the City would need to approve an emergency declaration waiving the zoning requirements and designating the specific site.

United Way Safe Sleep Shelter

The Safe Sleep Shelter is a low-barrier shelter for women, located at 1910 Front Street. It is currently approved for up to 10 women and has capacity for up to 19. United Way is working through the land use process to obtain conditional use approval for the full 19 shelter beds. An emergency declaration could take effect upon approval, more quickly advancing authorization for the full 19-woman capacity.

Car Camping

Councilors also directed staff to present information on a provision to allow car camping on private property with property owner permission on a trial basis. If deemed successful, the provision could be considered for longer term.

Car camping would also require an emergency provision to waive certain land use requirements.

Background

Since Salem’s camping restrictions on public property went into effect in mid-December, some people without shelter have remained on downtown streets. Per Salem City Code (SRC 95), people are allowed to sit or lie on city streets, but not to erect shelters like tents.

In response to public concerns regarding conditions experienced by our unsheltered neighbors, the Council intended to expand warming center capacity in the city to nightly use from January until March, regardless of temperature. ARCHES oversees the warming shelter network. On December 9, 2019, the Council authorized up to $213,000 to support the plan. However, the shelters determined that they do not have the capacity to operate when temperatures are above 32 degrees. Efforts have continued to find a suitable space for temporary shelter.

Salem residents and visitors have reported difficulty passing on public rights of way, sometimes threatening behavior, and unsanitary conditions that include solid waste and garbage accumulation in public areas as a result of the unsheltered groups. Downtown businesses have stated that the conditions around their properties adversely affect their customers. The City has intervened with periodic cleanings when public health and safety conditions have deteriorated.

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