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Are Homelessness Sweeps Effective?

A man walks down 6th Street, weaving his way around tents, in Los Angeles.(Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

In midsummer 2021, there was a homeless community that lay beneath the I-5 overpass in Salem, OR, and an estimated 100+ people resided there for about one year. On July 19th, the Oregon State Police, in all their ugly, swept the rug right from underneath them, treating people like they were vermin. They tore apart their homes, trashed their belongings, and demanded they leave. Little do the Oregon State Police know, just because they eradicate their home, it doesn’t take care of the homeless problem. This just displaces them and forces them to set up camp somewhere else.

They have relocated to set up several new camps throughout Salem such as at Wallace Marine Park. I went in search of people that had relocated and ended up meeting a very interesting character at Marion Square Park who goes by the name of “Out There.” He was recently kicked out of Wallace Marine Park, “I was over in West Salem, and these park rangers came up and said you have five minutes to get out of here. If they want me to catch a charge, I will catch a charge. I am not scared of them, it’s not fair.”

Even with the deficient facilitation of the sweeps, there has been improvement made on the process throughout the city. As of the past five years, the city of Salem has had regular meetings that facilitate provider outreach on behalf of several non-profits that initiate communication with the homeless population first and set them up with housing and programs, which ultimately keeps the law enforcement as a last resort resource. Some of the organizations include Salem Housing Authority, Marion County Health and Human Services, NW Human Services, and ARCHES Project. According to Lieutenant Upkes of Salem Police Department, the goal when it comes to sweeping is to clean up the area and get people living in homes, “homelessness is a societal issue, not a criminal justice issue.” All in all, homeless sweeps are partially effective.

When the non-profits reach out first, and people can be placed in housing and recovery programs, we can only hope that the city will continue to empathize and gain more solutions when it comes to housing the homeless community in Salem, OR.

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