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'How can we turn our backs?' Grandma spent Christmas helping Salem's homeless amid camping ban

70-year-old Jean Hendron is doing what she can to help Salem's homeless.

Armed with bottled water, spare change and Babybel cheese, 70-year-old Jean Hendron resumed, what’s recently become, her daily routine: combing the streets of Salem to check in on the city’s homeless.

“I think we've got people down here who might be cold,” she said, pointing and clutching her black backpack.

The West Linn grandmother and retired Washington state employee gave up spending Christmas with her family this year because she is furious at how the city of Salem enacted its new ban on public camping.

It happened earlier this month, weeks before a slew of new shelter beds were slated to come online.

RELATED: Salem camping ban on public property takes effect

Officials have acknowledged the gap, but, after declaring homeless camping a public emergency, refused to delay the ban.

It’s a contrast that, earlier this week, prompted homeless campers to pitch tents on the State Capitol Mall.

RELATED: Homeless set up camps on Salem Capitol Mall

“We want our words to matter. We want to count out here,” said a man Monday who asked to be identified as Uncle Ray.

By then, Hendron had already made the nearly hour-long drive to Salem to do what she could to help.

“I'm just trying to get the public to understand how cruel it is to take away tents and everything that's going to keep you warm,” she said to a group of campers sitting on a downtown Salem sidewalk.

She’s been in Salem every day this week, sleeping in a motel to avoid the commute.

“How can we turn our backs?” she said during an interview. “I know it's easy once or twice when we have an excuse in our head, but it's not the way we live.”

Hendron added she’s noticing frustration among campers tied to the lack of warming shelter availability and space.

Existing spaces only open when temperatures dip below freezing, and when that happens, there are not enough beds for everyone living on Salem’s streets.

Advocates estimate close to 1,800 people are homeless in the city.

So far, Hendron has taken two men to the hospital.

“One lost his leg, and the other one may lose the ends of his big toes,” she said. “I'm not sure how that's going to work out yet, but they don't look good.”

She believes the cold either caused or sped up their health problems.

Prior to Christmas night, overnight lows had stayed above freezing all week.

Overnight lows between Wednesday and Thursday are forecasted to dip into the upper 20s.

It’s what’s kept Hendron coming back day after day.

“If I can save a few people today by being here, that's the most important thing I'll have ever done in my life,” she said.

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