I don't want to go into the camp today and make dozens of arrests. The Police Department will post the camp as an illegal homeless camp on Tuesday March 8th at 0900. I would like social services and homeless advocates with us to assist finding people temporary and permanent housing. (We are already getting the word out to the people in the camp.) We will repost the camp on Tuesday, March 15th at 0900.
On Wednesday March 16th, at 10:00 AM those remaining...will be subject to arrest, however again I would rather get them a bed some place other that the Polk County Jail...Would people be willing to assist officers on March 8th and 15th with notifications and offering people housing and services? Where is bed space available on the 16th? I would like to have alternatives for the homeless, other than arrest, and what are those?
Notice of the request for assistance was immediately forwarded to the Emergency Housing Network, a collaborative of shelter providers coordinated by the Salem Housing Authority, sparking questions about numbers and concerns about the capacity of providers to accommodate a sudden influx of people seeking services, as well as offers of assistance.
On the morning of March 8, officers met with representatives from the Salem Housing Authority, the Salvation Army, Union Gospel Mission, the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and others, where the trail along Edgewater passes under Highway 22. From there, they headed west along the trail about 50 yards to the edge of a camp with 10 to 15 active sites.
Most of the 15 to 20 campers they spoke with were already aware of the upcoming eviction. Many were willing to talk with the outreach workers about services. Most were aware of the services that were available, but some were not.
After leaving Camp Hayden, the group went to an ODOT property on the south end of Wallace Marine Park, where they spoke with 8 to 10 campers, including a 24 year-old woman who had recently quit her job to take care of her mother, who was suffering from a terminal illness. After her mother died, she was forced out of her home and on to the streets, where she had been since February. A member of the Salem Housing Authority staff took the woman to her office, gave her food and arranged for housing and other services.
No arrests were made at either camp that day. All campers the group spoke with were friendly, even appreciative.
The cooperative outreach effort had been successful by any reasonable measurement -- no arrests, a couple of people enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, several people moved into housing or a shelter and offered services, and the remainder quietly shifted off of private property onto public. But, we wondered, will such cooperation be enough in the years ahead?
As we made our way back along the trail, we met a young woman with short red hair, very pregnant, walking west toward the camp. She was wearing a backpack, and her ruddy complexion indicated a lot of time spent outdoors. We asked if she lived at the camp up the trail. She said no, she just crosses through it. She lived with her fiance and sister in another camp. Yes, she knew the people in the camp. They'd either moved to Wallace Marine Park or the Quarry Camp (partly in WMP). Some were still moving, but a lot of stuff they'd just abandoned, like the sleeping bag draped over the guardrail over there, and the purple jacket she was wearing.
Her baby boy was due any day now, and her sister was just as far along. She had found out she was pregnant at 37 weeks, but had been taking her prenatal vitamins since then. She had cash assistance and food stamps, and didn't seem interested in other services. This was her fourth child.