Below you'll find a opinion piece about Salem's downtown homeless problem written by Carole Smith.
She and Eric Kittleson live downtown and lease space to several Court Street businesses. So they have an up-close and personal perspective on how homeless people are impacting Salem's urban core.
Smith submitted the piece as a guest opinion to the Statesman Journal, which declined to publish it. I have no idea why, since what she wrote is timely, provocative, and based on both her own direct experience and that of her tenants.
I'm also sharing a video Kittleson took on a Sunday morning around 11 am. It shows how unattractive Court Street looked that day with homeless belongings littering the sidewalk, taking up both private and public space.
Homelessness is a complex problem. Most homeless people aren't on the streets by choice, but by necessity. They deserve compassion.
But we also need to have compassion for the downtown business owners whose livelihood is being impacted by the homeless. In her piece Smith describes several disturbing anecdotes about behavior by homeless people that is decidedly unacceptable.
Salem keeps talking about dealing with the homeless problem. So far, though, that talk hasn't led to much action.
I'm downtown frequently. It bothers me to see benches taken up not by visitors and shoppers, but by slumbering homeless people. It bothers me to see the entrances to businesses, which are private property, filled with the belongings of homeless people. It bothers me to use a stairwell that smells of urine.
Those who live downtown and own businesses there obviously are much more impacted than I am by the homeless. Something needs to change. Soon. Here's the video by Eric Kittleson and opinion piece by Carole Smith.
Downtown Salem's homeless problem is hurting businesses
by Carole Smith
Homeless citizens were recently removed from City property under the bridge. The City Council has directed police not to remove homeless citizens from public property downtown unless there is a bed available in a facility. Does the City of Salem realize that when they clean out a homeless camp they drive them right onto downtown property?
If the City can move homeless citizens from City property under the bridge, then why can’t they move them from public sidewalks and posted private property? What is the difference? Is it “humane” to leave citizens shivering and sleeping in 30 degrees on sidewalks with one cotton blanket? How is that humane, but sleeping under cover of a bridge is inhumane?
Police are called several times a day to remove addicts and severely mentally ill citizens from downtown entryways, sidewalks, and private and public property. When business owners ask police to move homeless citizens so they can open their doors, the police recommended: “Just wake them and ask them politely to move.” Now store owners have been assaulted and injured by violent homeless people.
Downtown businesses had a homeless citizen walking up and down the sidewalk in an agitated state, slashing the air with a stick and announcing “I am going to kill my wife, I am going to kill my children.” This lasted a month. One business had sales for the month of $1,500. That isn't enough to even pay rent. This is the damage the Mayor and City Council are doing to Salem businesses -- every day.
A homeless citizen was sleeping in an entry blocking a fire exit. He refused to move. The police were called. It took several hours and five officers to move him. He was completely naked under his blanket because he had peed himself. He was seriously mentally ill and needed help, but the officer said there was nowhere to take him. But there were beds for homeless campers removed from under the bridge?
A customer was attacked and seriously bitten by a homeless citizen’s pit bull in front of Starbucks. A local restaurant had a homeless citizen unzip his pants and urinate on their plate glass window with customers eating on the other side of the glass. When the owner called the police they instructed him to “Ask the man to move along.”
We have told the Mayor and Councilor Cara Kaser that there are buses of homeless citizens paroled from Portland jails unloaded at Rite Aid. Police officers have told us Idaho and Colorado are also busing to Salem. One business found a Facebook post from Texas offering free bus tickets to Salem because “we have better services here.”
The City needs to build a covered tennis court (or two) at Riverfront Park with a heated concrete slab. During the summer it can be a tennis court, in winter, a heated pad for homeless to camp on the warm cement. When it gets dirty, move them and power wash the cement and let them come back.
At least they are not hurting businesses, and they could be warm during the winter. Then, build “tiny home villages” to house them permanently and provide mental health and addiction treatments.
I took this photo of a sign in one of the businesses shown in the video. It's humorous, but also sad, since no business should have to put a sign like this in their front window.