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News / Northwest

Salem homeless told to leave Oregon Capitol grounds after establishing camp in protest

By Jonathan Bach, Salem Statesman Journal, The Register-Guard
Published: December 24, 2019, 6:49am

SALEM, Ore. — Salem homeless followed up on a plan to set up tents on the state Capitol grounds in protest after being displaced from downtown under a camping ban passed by the City Council earlier this month.

About 25 people with about a dozen tents occupied the park before Oregon State Police and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department officials arrived Monday morning.

State officials and Salem Housing Authority staff told the homeless they had two hours to leave the Oregon Capitol State Park. At least one homeless man was arrested on an outstanding warrant. By 1:30 p.m., the camp was mostly dismantled.

City officials briefly revisited an idea Friday to allow sanctioned tent camping, but they have backed away from that proposal. Instead, they redoubled efforts to find a space to operate a 90-day warming shelter after Salem First Presbyterian Church decided not to participate.

Officials have yet to announce a location, however.

Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford told the Statesman Journal: “Our consistent message on enforcement of the ordinance is that we will be responding to complaints, but that we do not have the capacity to actively look for campsites.”

Retherford is acting city manager while City Manager Steve Powers is on vacation.

“Nobody has been directed to go to parks,” Retherford said. “If people are in small groups and not really visible, or doing things that will result in complaints, (the Salem Police Department) does not have the capacity to go searching for campsites.”

Salem police and others last week cleared a large homeless camp outside The ARCHES Project, a downtown social services provider. Many who were at the Capitol Mall had been outside ARCHES before the cleanup.

Among them was Anthony Stevens, who said moving so frequently makes it difficult to arrange appointments for public services.

“Some of us do everything we can to survive, but when we’re having to move every two, three days, we can’t help ourselves to get … the help that we need,” Stevens said.

Another camper, Ray Martin, said he was considering heading to Salem City Hall, pointing out that people are allowed to sleep, sit or stand on public sidewalks. City councilors dropped an earlier proposal to ban sitting and lying on sidewalks, instead putting the camping ban in place.

“I have to follow this through,” Martin said.

Anna Reed of the Statesman Journal contributed to this article.