ODOT to clear Salem homeless camp; city works to address the problem

A huge homeless camp has taken over a bike ramp at Riverfront Park in Salem. (KATU Photo)

The trees were bare, but with warmer, sunny weather Salem got its first true taste of spring Tuesday.

People flocked to Riverfront Park, and many of them saw something they didn't expect: a growing homeless camp taking up the majority of a bike ramp.

"Sad, and definitely something needs to happen," said Nicholas MacFawn.

The camp was issued notices Tuesday by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The notices said ODOT would clear the camp sometime next week.

City officials say it's one sign of the city's growing homeless population, and it's an issue the city is working to tackle.

On Tuesday the city of Salem will host its second meeting for the homeless task force. The city says it's working on partnering with not-for-profits and businesses around downtown to create immediate solutions.

"Instead of saying, 'Here you go, go fend for yourself,' we're trying to help them get to a point where they can help themselves," said Kerry Larson, spokesperson for the mayor's office.

Larson says the city hopes to create a sobering center. Right now if a police officer needs to get a homeless person off the streets for the night there are really only two options: sending them to the emergency room or to jail. Larson says both of those options are costly, and don't properly address the real issue.

"To get that sobering center built, bring the people there, get them to sober up and connect them with resources that will help them get into a better situation," Larson said.

The next meeting for Salem's homeless task force is March 20 at the Salem Public Library at 6 p.m.

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