Homeless camp takes over pedestrian walkway in Salem

The camp, located on a pedestrian walkway connecting Water Street and Center Street near Riverfront City park, contained roughly 25 tents, according to ODOT.

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SALEM, Ore. -- Transportation officials have started to clear out a Salem homeless camp that’s recently become notable due to a Facebook video depicting the site. The camp, located on a pedestrian walkway connecting Water Street and Center Street near Riverfront City park, contained roughly 25 tents, according to ODOT.

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The video, uploaded by a man named Sean Temple, shows the camp occupying a noticeable portion of the walkway. At one point, the walkway is nearly impassable.

“Isn’t this just lovely?” can be heard from Temple in the video. Uploaded to Facebook Monday afternoon, the video has since racked up over 2,500 shares and nearly 150,000 views. In the video, Temple also expresses frustration with the amount of garbage and odors coming from the camp.

The camp is located next to the Gilbert House Children’s Museum and riverfront trails along Water Street.

When contacted Tuesday, Temple told KGW that he was upset that the walkway was blocked by tents and campers. “I wouldn’t want to take my children through there. It’s a shame,” he said in a voicemail. “I’ve been homeless. If you have the will to change your life, you can do it. I hope this helps the homeless and the downtown business owners in the community.”

On Tuesday morning, ODOT issued a notice to the campers giving them 10 days to vacate the area, a standard practice for the agency. Salem police and social services employees were also on scene. An agency spokesman told KGW that the issuing of the notice to campers did not come about as a result of Temple’s video. ODOT says it was “well aware” of the camp and had previously discussed plans to vacate the walkway.

Meanwhile, the city of Salem says it’s working on several short-term and long-term solutions to address the city’s homeless crisis.

“Homelessness is a major concern in the city,” said city spokesman Kenny Larson. “There’s short term things we need to do, there’s medium term things to do, and there’s longer term things we need to do to address the systemic issues that contribute to homelessness.”

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Examples of long-range projects included a sobering center and funding to rental assistance programs, Larson said.

“Rather than just saying, here you go, fend for yourself. We’re trying to help them get to a point where they can help themselves,” he said.

Attention to the camp coincides with a planned meeting of the city’s Downtown Homelessness Solutions task force. The group, made up of various city leaders, business owners, and homeless advocates, met for the first time in February.

“The Task Force discussed a range of issues from trash and hygiene, to safety and lack of affordable housing. They also expressed interest in broader issues contributing to homelessness including the lack of funding for mental health, drug and alcohol addiction resources,” the city said in a news release.

A second meeting was planned for Tuesday evening.

Some campers at the Center Street walkway camp said they felt harassed by Temple’s video. “It’s sad, because we’re trying to keep public relations,” said Javier, a homeless man and self-described “elder” at the site. “[We’re] actually trying to show the public that we’re trying to maintain a safety policy around here.”

Javier said that the campers relied on each other for support and desired their own land to be left alone. “If we could have at least, a helping hand from the community, it would go a long ways.”