Salem homeless camp swept ahead of annual 'Point in Time' count - KPTV - FOX 12

Salem homeless camp swept ahead of annual 'Point in Time' count

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SALEM, OR (KPTV) -

Some 200 volunteers are getting ready for an enormous project in Salem on Wednesday: Counting the people who are homeless across two rural counties.

But just days before the annual “Point in Time” count, one camp has already been swept.

The camp, consisting of roughly half a dozen people, was under a Mission Street overpass behind a Lowe’s home improvement store and next to Mill Creek. Because Mission Street is a state highway, the right of way falls into Oregon Department of Transportation jurisdiction.

ODOT spokesperson Lou Torres said the agency responded to a number of complaints, and posted the required 10-day notice before moving in Monday.

“We don’t do a lot of sweeps here in Salem, maybe unlike Eugene and Portland, but sometimes we have to because safety and cleanliness is kind of important,” Torres told FOX 12.

At this particular camp, Torres said there had been warming fires under the bridge that were potentially hazardous for drivers above. Additionally, there were concerns about possible pollution and garbage entering Mill Creek. Torres said state police, who also helped in the sweep, recovered stolen property.

Tuesday, one of the former campers, Jackie Morgan, returned to the site to gather some things, and told FOX 12 there were a few bad apples who’d joined the camp recently and gave a bad name to the whole group.

She said the process of being forced out is emotional and draining, and without enough shelter space to meet demand, she didn't know where else she would go.

“[They] started stealing stuff from behind Lowes, and [the store] had enough so they called the city,” Morgan said. “I don’t blame them because they shouldn’t be stealing, but we didn’t all do it. And we’re all being punished for it.”

Now, not only have the handful of campers who were there scattered, but advocates in the homeless community told FOX 12 the sweep created a sort of ripple effect ahead of the annual count.

“It creates a sense of fear, a sense of distrust, and when we’re trying to go out and find and count and assess and talk to people, it makes it more difficult,” said Jimmy Jones, the Director of the ARCHES Project, the primary emergency housing and homeless service center in the Salem area.

Jones said while the Point in Time count is not always a perfect snapshot of the homeless situation in any given community, it is an important piece of the puzzle because it’s not only tied to funding, but also local planning for additional shelters and other services.

“[For instance,] whether or not we need to build more affordable housing, or we need to find more ways to provide more homeless services,” he explained.

The sweep of the camp near Mission Street on Monday is one example of a very complicated issue, and the sort of tug-of-war between agencies that each have an important job to do.

“We didn’t know there was a homeless count that was going to happen,” Torres explained. “Just the timing was the way it was, it was just coincidental more than anything.”

“I think it’s just one of those things that just happens without anyone’s intent or anyone’s deliberate act,” Jones added. “But the consequence of it is still considerable.”

Based on counts in recent years, Jones believes there are roughly 1,800 or more people living on the street in Marion and Polk counties. This year, volunteers are trying a new, expanded approach to reach more people in rural areas.

After Wednesday’s count it will still take a few months for the new numbers to be released.

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