Salem shelters squeezed by growing homeless population

Union Gospel Mission CEO says many homeless from Portland coming to Salem

Beds on the floor of a homeless shelter, file. (KOIN)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Homeless shelters in Salem are seeing more new faces than ever before, and local advocates say there are several factors feeding the problem.

Homeless people in Portland (KOIN 6 News, file)
Homeless people in Portland (KOIN 6 News, file)

“Some come from Portland, some come from Eugene,” Steven Hill, who stays at Salem’s Union Gospel Mission, said. “They’re trying to find themselves, trying to find a way of life, trying to find something better.”

Union Gospel Mission CEO Bruce Bailey says part of what’s causing a significant increase in the local homeless population is the housing squeeze.

“There is no affordable housing, there’s no housing stock, really,” Bailey said. “It’s about 2% but that amounts to 0% when people are looking for permanent housing.”

One employee at the mission estimates there has recently been a 35% increase in the number of shelter users. Some have reportedly told Salem police officers they were given bus tickets to get to the area from Portland.

“We do see an influx of people from… the Portland area,” Bailey said. “We don’t know why they’re coming here except people want to go where they can get help.”

Bailey says he recently met with Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett who is working on a plan to help deal with the spike in homelessness in the area.

Both Bailey and Bennett are against sanctioned camping that’s common in Portland and Eugene. But they are in favor of creating more affordable housing and making sure there is adequate shelter space available for families.