Downtown Salem has a serious homeless problem.
This is obvious to anyone who visits the area. I go to a Tai Chi class on Court Street three days a week around 4 to 7 pm. I'm bothered by the trash, people curled up in sleeping bags, shopping carts filled to overflowing with people's possessions.
Last month I wrote "Seeing Salem's homeless sleeping outside stirred up these feelings." But I've got to be honest. I didn't share all of the feelings I had.
Along with feeling bad about the plight of the homeless, I also don't like what homeless people are doing to downtown Salem. It isn't pleasant to see shopping carts on the sidewalk. Nor is it pleasant to park in the Chemeketa Parkade and walk down stairs reeking of urine.
Recently I parked in that garage on the second floor. A homeless person was sitting on the stairs leading down to ground level, talking on his phone, with stuff spread over the full width of several stair steps. He had to move some things aside so I could get by.
An hour and a half later, after my Tai Chi class, he was in the same spot, but standing up talking on his phone. A woman walked up the stairs just ahead of me. I thought, “If I find it disturbing to encounter a homeless person on the stairs, I wonder how a woman walking up the stairs by herself feels."
We've got to get over a reluctance to talk honestly about downtown's homeless problem. It's possible to both (1) feel compassion toward homeless people and (2) feel bad about how homeless people are making downtown Salem less pleasant for visitors, residents, and business owners.
I'm planning to write another blog post about what the business owners said -- keeping their names confidential given how strong feelings run when there's any talk about restricting homeless people in downtown Salem.
Which is what Carole Smith suggests below: a ban on lying on sidewalks between 8 am and 11 pm, along with some other ideas. These proposals deserve serious consideration, even though a similar "sit-lie" proposal was rejected by the City Council in 2017. Some business owners tried to resurrect the idea in 2018, but it wasn't recommended by a Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force.
Our holding is a narrow one. Like the Jones panel, “we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets . . . at any time and at any place.
... [footnote] Naturally, our holding does not cover individuals who do have access to adequate temporary shelter, whether because they have the means to pay for it or because it is realistically available to them for free, but who choose not to use it. Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside. Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible.