Editor's note: Video is from Jan. 3
SALEM, Ore. -- Weeks after implementing a citywide ban on camping and nine days after failing to meet a self-imposed deadline by which officials vowed to open 140 new shelter beds, the city of Salem Thursday morning commissioned professional sanitation crews and garbage collectors to clean sidewalks downtown.
Before work got underway, dozens of homeless people had to pick up their belongings and move.
“Residents and visitors have reported difficulty passing on public rights of way, sometimes threatening behavior, and unsanitary conditions, including solid waste and garbage accumulating in public areas,” a city spokesperson said via a news release. “Downtown businesses say the conditions around their properties adversely affect their customers."
The release explained the closures and cleaning processes would be finished by the weekend.
Crews would focus mainly on sidewalks along Center Street and Liberty Street, which have been lined with homeless people in recent weeks.
Under Salem’s new camping ban, people can sit, lie and sleep on the sidewalk, but they can’t have tents or structures of any kind.
“Our primary concern is health and safety of all in our community including our unsheltered neighbors who often deal with untreated mental illness, addiction, and chronic health conditions worsened by long periods of homelessness,” city manager Steve Powers was quoted as saying in the release. “Congregating in large groups under such unsanitary conditions isn’t a healthy situation for anyone.”
The release did not clarify, however, where homeless people should congregate.
In conjunction with passing the camping ban, officials acknowledged the city’s shelter bed count needed a boost.
They vowed to open 140 new beds by the New Year.
Last week, days after their deadline, they confirmed zero new beds had opened.
On Thursday, the release from the city said staff with ARCHES, the nonprofit tasked to spend the city funding set aside for those beds, is still “looking at spaces."
The city of Salem currently has 330 shelter beds available every night.
When temperatures drop below freezing, an extra 256 beds are set up in emergency shelter locations throughout the city. Officials add, when that happens, no one is turned away from warming centers.
Advocates estimate close to 1,800 people are homeless in Salem.
City officials in Keizer recently passed a similar ban, outlawing camping on sidewalks and in other public spaces.