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.
Screenshot from video shared in the blog post linked to below
Last month I shared an opinion piece by Carole Smith, who lives downtown and also leases space to several downtown businesses: "Downtown Salem's homeless problem is hurting businesses
." Below are further thoughts that Smith emailed to me, along with information she's received from several downtown business owners about how the homeless are affecting them.
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.
: Someone drew my attention to the Ninth Circuit ruling
regarding homeless people sleeping in public places, like sidewalks. After looking at the ruling
, and some news stories about it, it seems that the City of Salem could justify an ordinance that prohibits lying on sidewalks during a specific time period, like 8 am to 11 pm, since the ruling says:
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.
Anyway, here's part of what Carole Smith said in her email to me. You'll see that she balances compassion for homeless people with concern for their impact on downtown businesses.
I have been thinking a lot about homelessness, what causes it, what might be done about it, and hopefully how to relieve innocent citizens from having to deal with a national crisis on their own.
Addiction and mental illness are both diseases. No one choses to be mentally ill or addicted. It happens to people just like cancer or many other diseases just happen to people. Why do we treat people with these two diseases differently than people with cancer, lupus, pneumonia, ringworm, etc?
Both behaviors are classified as a “disease” in the United States, yet we continue to treat the victims of these diseases as if continuing on with their disease is a choice. It isn’t. They can’t help being mentally ill or addicted to alcohol or drugs. It's a disease they have little or no ability to control.
So, how do we help people with diseases?
When you frame the question that way people have to acknowledge that diseases can, and should be, treated. How is it in the best interest of a citizen to sleep on sidewalks in freezing weather? If a child did this they would be in protective custody immediately. Why not adults who cannot take care of themselves? Why are they allowed to live in dangerous conditions?
Where has our sense of humanity and compassion gone?
The homeless need services. They need a home where they feel safe and are protected while they work on controlling their disease, if they have one. A home where they can be monitored to take their medications and counseling to help them cope with their problems more successfully. The same for addiction treatment.
These are solvable problems but government doesn’t want to be bogged down by illnesses that are lifelong. Public officials prefer that citizens deal with the fall out from mental illness and addiction. We have to sweep up trash everyday, wash sidewalks, destroy needles and other drug paraphernalia, recycle the cardboard, hose out urine and feces from our doorways.
And the homeless come back every night and begin the cycle all over again.
One solution to the homeless problem is to provide police services downtown at 8 AM each morning to wake the homeless and ask them to pack up for the day. Then at 9 AM, the Downtown Clean Team comes through downtown hosing sidewalks and picking up garbage from homeless campers.
The city budgeted $90,000 this year for “Clean Team” and $60,000 in next year's budget. Why do they clean in the afternoon instead of before the shops open each morning? It wouldn’t cost any more, just change the time they clean.
We need a city ordinance that no one can be prone on public property between 8 AM and 11 PM.
Homeless citizens would be welcome to sit on benches but not to lay down, same for sidewalks. We have had homeless citizens sleeping until 3 in the afternoon in front of our building for weeks. Also, all shopping carts would have to be off sidewalks by 10 AM and moved into a designated area in a public park or parking garage.
Last week one of my tenants told me she made $22 of sales the day before. No one can stay in business when sales are hurt that badly. Another tenant sold $1,500 in November but his rent is $2,400 a month. Other businesses are choosing to move out of downtown and our customers are gone.
Another fact many people are unaware of is that the type of homeless has changed dramatically.
In the past we had homeless people who had worked jobs, had families but had lost a job, had a medical emergency, or other bad luck. They mostly camped along the river away from the public. Today, the homeless population is much older and sicker. They have problems that prohibit them from using the services of the Union Gospel Mission.
To enter the UGM, you have to be alcohol and drug free. To avail yourself of the beds in the UGM, you have to submit to chapel and religious teaching.
The addicts cannot enter the UGM because of their addiction, and the mentally ill people simply cannot sleep with 200 other men in a room. They get claustrophobic. Their illness makes it more comfortable for them to sleep outside so they can breathe. And certainly their needs are far beyond anything the downtown business community can help with.
It appears to me that Americans are more compassionate about their pets than their fellow humans.
When a pet is homeless, it is rounded up, gets free medical attention, sheltered, fed, and is adopted to a new home. We don’t treat our homeless human neighbors half that well. It is shameful that we pay our taxes but the government we are funding has washed its hands of its responsibility to provide services.
Anyway, we are struggling for our very survival downtown.
Businesses are being damaged everyday, customers are being driven off, businesses are checking their leases for expiration dates so they can move out of downtown, and the homeless are provided no services or help.
UPDATE: Carole Smith just sent me this.
If you want a bit of good news in your article, the City of Salem has $2.5 million in their proposed budget for NEXT year [2019-20] to fund the Homelss Task Force recommendations. I assume it will pay for storage for their shopping carts, 24/7 restroom availability, garbage and laundry facilities AND the purchase and renovation of the Arches building north of downtown.
They are using Urban Renewal funds for that purchase. You should also note they are taking $5 million of Urban Renewal for Police Station improvements when they said they WOULD NOT. So, the public is getting the police station they voted down.
The sleeping ban should be for 24 / 7.
The only reason for someone prone in the downtown area is due to a medical emergency.
Anyone found laying down should be interviewed and sent to proper treatment.
Subsequent offenses should result in a one way bus ticket that must have a destination OUT of Marion County.
Posted by: Skyline | March 27, 2019 at 09:21 AM
The proposed ban would address the complaints of housed people at the expense of homeless people. If that's what you're into, Brian and Carole, then you have every right to continue to pursue it, though compassion hardly has anything to do with it. As Jeff Kositsky says, “You can’t solve homelessness by addressing housed people’s complaints, you solve homelessness by addressing homeless people’s needs.”
The Good Neighbor Partnership proposed by the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force is a much better answer to the problem than any ban.
Posted by: Sarah Owens | March 27, 2019 at 05:25 PM
Their used to be laws against vagrancy. If you didn't move on the cop would hit you with a billy club. . only once if you were lucky. In those days cops on their beats were bad asses that didn't take crap from vagrants on their turf.
Some people are vagrants. It's a lifestyle. They choose it and whatever hassles go with the territory.
That doesn't mean those who are receptive shouldn't get help if society has the means to do it.
We used to sleep on the beach sometimes so that we would be there for glassy morning surf. In some localities that was against local ordinances and we would be awakened in the middle of the night by cops telling us to leave. They'd ask why we were there and we'd explain. They'd say, "Well, you can't sleep here." So, we'd pack up and sleep somewhere else. It wasn't complicated.
Posted by: tucson | March 28, 2019 at 09:31 PM
From 4/1/19 U.S. News article, posted on Huffpost, by Sarah Ruiz-Grossman:
"The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, rejected a petition Monday for a rehearing from the city of Boise, Idaho, in the case of Martin v. Boise. The court essentially maintained its September 2018 ruling that prosecuting or otherwise punishing homeless people for sleeping on the street if they have nowhere else to go qualifies as “cruel and unusual punishment” and is unconstitutional.
The September ruling applied to all cities in the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction, which encompasses western U.S. states including California, Washington, Oregon and more.
The case stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed on behalf of six homeless Boise residents that claimed the city’s citations under its “camping and disorderly conduct” ordinances violated the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. "
This is particularly interesting because a Supreme Court opinion was just issued that death row prisoners have no right to a pain free death. National embarrassment Brett Kavanaugh joined the majority, of course.
Posted by: Kurt | April 01, 2019 at 08:52 PM
It is cruel and unusual punishment for the public to have to walk carefully to avoid stepping on turds, syringes, and vomit left by homeless people on the sidewalks, parks and alleyways of San Francisco and similar municipalities.
Were the victims of death row prisoners murdered painlessly? Was the victims' right not to be murdered painfully observed by the prisoners?
You can't expect mercy when you give none yourself. In this world you can't expect mercy even if you do give mercy yourself.
I favor the guillotine over lethal injection, electrocution, firing squad, or hanging if the goal is a pain free death which is almost instantaneous when administered by a guillotine in proper working condition.
Posted by: tucson | April 02, 2019 at 10:22 AM