A homeless camp is taking over a pedestrian bridge in Salem, Oregon, worrying parents due to its proximity to a family-favorite spot in the city.
The footpath is under the Marion Street Bridge. Runners and cyclists say they can barely get by, and worried parents contacted FOX 12 because right next to the tents are kids playing outside at the Gilbert House Children’s Museum.
The museum and its playground sit a stone’s throw away from the small tent city, where large piles of trash, about 20 tents and a community of homeless individuals have planted roots.
“There’s trash that came over the railing, food debris, tons of cigarette butts,” Salem mother Crystal Cady said. “I was like, ‘Gosh, is someone going to throw something over the railing?’”
Cady and her baby girl said they had to turn around on their walk when they took in the sights and the smell of the camp.
“The homeless are everywhere, most don’t mean any harm,” she said. “I think the thing that sticks out here is it’s right next to the children museum.”
People living in tents on the bridge told FOX 12 40 to 60 people sleep there every night. They said Salem police officers have cleared them out of other camps, but for months now, they’ve been allowed to stay on the bridge.
“Yeah, it’s out of hand, it’s out of control, but there’s no place we can go,” Sandra, a woman who lives in a tent on the walkway told FOX 12. “It’s the only place they let us stay, nobody lets us stay anywhere else.”
Ray Martin said the streets of Salem have been his home for 12 years.
“It’s tough, it’s hard to get up in the morning not knowing where your next shower is going to be,” he said.
Martin told FOX 12 he has stayed at the camp in the past.
“The cops told us this is where you can go, without us messing with you, and you can sleep there,” he explained.
He said he left the camp on about a month ago, though, when he said things started getting out of hand. No he and others who have lived in the tents say the area is no place for kids.
The footpath is Oregon Department of Transportation property, and ODOT officials are aware of the growing camp.
ODOT spokesperson Lou Torres said the agency hopes to address the issue soon, but officials have no solid plans or timeline for what comes next.
Torres also said the homeless situation in Salem is the worst he’s seen in years.
A spokesperson with Arches, a local homeless program said the unsheltered population in Marion County is up 33 percent from last year and at least 450 people are living on the streets.