Over the last few years, homelessness in Salem has become more of a problem, especially during the winter. With temperatures dropping down to the upper 20’s last winter, trying to keep those on the streets warm has become a public health issue. In Portland, four people died in 2016 due to frigid temperatures. As winter is soon to be upon Oregon, protecting those on the streets has become an issue now more than ever.
Simonka Place and the UGM
There are many forms of homelessness in Salem, from those living with relatives or in shelters to those living on the streets. For those on the streets, Salem has a variety of programs and organizations that help those in need year round and during the holiday season. The Union Gospel Mission [UGM], located in downtown Salem, serves meals and provides shelter for those living on the streets.
The UGM provides transitional housing and shelter for women and children in their Simonka Place located in Keizer. There, guests are provided with food and shelter, clothing and showers, and counseling. Soap, warm water, and laundromats are also available to anyone who needs them. Transitional services like interview training are also provided to those seeking employment. Simonka Place is located in Keizer on River Road. One woman writing a Google review about the Simonka Place said that “It’s wonderful to see the Support Simonika provides to our citizens in need. So much better to donate to local charities such as this as compared to others that have huge administrative costs.” The UGM also provides recovery programs for addicts and a has a thrift store where all proceeds go to the care for their guests. A GED program is also available to those seeking to move forward in their education.
Community Warming Shelters and Other Services
Warming shelters are also offered during the winter months through the UGM, as well as other organizations. Students can even volunteer at these shelters during the winter to provide help for those in need. These resources are available to anyone who may want a safe place to sleep.They allow people to sleep overnight in a warm environment with food. Belongings of those vacating the warming shelter are locked up and monitored by volunteers, in order to ensure their safety. Last year, warming shelters opened up in karate studios, shelters, and even an old car dealership on Commercial. If the temperatures fall below 30 degrees, these warming shelters may be reused.
The UGM is just one of many shelters and transitional housing programs that are designated around Salem. While the city had appeared to deal with the issue of homelessness in less compassionate ways in September, with the possibility of a “sit-lie” ordinance that would have restricted sitting on public sidewalks, Salem has taken important steps towards helping its homeless community. Recently, the city has instituted a rental assistance program that works to give those with housing problems a way to pay their rent. An estimated $2.9 million goes into this problem each year. Services like the Interfaith Hospitality Network also are available to help those needing to find homes and economic stability. The Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Program run by Northwest Human Services also works to provide housing for those on the streets who suffer from mental illnesses that hinder their stability.
St. Francis Shelter
Outside the UGM, there is also the St. Francis Shelter that provides warming shelters and temporary housing for families. Unlike the UGM, those who stay at the St. Francis Shelter are responsible for purchasing their own food and clothing. Fully furnished apartments are provided for guests. A library is also included in the shelter for children to do arts and craft projects, read in, and be tutored by volunteers. For adults looking to find jobs, employment coaching, community resource referrals, and financial planning help are also provided.