After heavy rains and rising creeks displaced dozens of homeless campers at two Salem parks, city officials are banning camps at low-level wetlands and creek banks.
Officials announced the guidelines Wednesday, more than a week after heavy rainfall caused Mill Creek to overflow its banks and flood parts of Cascades Gateway Park.
Roughly half of the campsites were inundated with water. Some reported seeing tents floating down the creek.
The rainfall preceding Dec. 21 pushed Mill Creek over the high water watch level of 9.3 feet. As of Tuesday, the creek remains well below that level.
‘People are suffering:’ Floodwaters inundate homeless camp of 300 at Cascades Gateway Park
In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population, the city lifted a ban on camping at Cascades Gateway and Wallace Marine parks. Hundreds relocated to the parks — both of which are susceptible to flooding.
Advocates worked last week to help move people to dry areas, replace their lost belongings and shelter some in motels.
Neighbors to the park said the flooding was a “humanitarian and environmental crisis.”
On Wednesday, city officials urged visitors and campers to use caution during the rainy season and be wary of flooding when near creek banks and lower elevations.
“Due to ongoing concerns of flooding this time of year, camping near low-level areas is not allowed and park visitors are encouraged to watch for signs and stay away from known wetlands,” officials said in a news release.
Both parks now have designated locations away from flood danger for overnight camping. Restrictions about camping in low elevations and near waterways have been shared with campers and advocates.
Support local journalism: Stay up on city and housing news. Become a Statesman Journal subscriber and get unlimited digital access to stories that matter.
At Cascades Gateway Park, camping is allowed in the northeast corner of the park in the meadow east of Blue Gill Lake, north of the Blue Gill Reservation area, eastern side and the east entrance of the dog park.
At Wallace Marine Park, camping is available at select locations inside the berm along field sides.
Officials reminded park visitors and campers that no excavation, digging, trenching, fires, or other land alterations are allowed in city parks.
Tent camping is only allowed in designated camping areas as part of the city’s Emergency Housing Declaration.
Officials encouraged people to report violations of these orders through the city website.
For months, residents near the encampments have express concern over the living conditions, lack of services, damage to the parks and increase in crime they tie to some in the homeless community.
In a December Salem City Council meeting discussing the extension of camping at the two parks, City Manager Steve Powers vowed to come back to the council in January with a plan to alleviate the issues tied to the homeless encampments in the parks, including some alternative shelter options.
Advocates said people living in the park need to be allowed to move to higher ground.
“Keeping people dry and warm right now is super difficult, and we don’t want to super-concentrate people in places,” said Jimmy Jones, executive director of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. “That said, there has to be somewhere else for people to go.”
City leaders encouraged those interested in helping the homeless community to volunteer with one of Salem’s homeless service providers or non-profit organizations.
Information is available on the city’s website.
Officials said work continues on helping the campers find shelter and safe places to sleep.
“The City continues to work with homeless advocate groups, volunteers, and local non-profit organizations to connect campers with local resources to indoor shelter and additional supplies such as tents, tarps and sleeping bags,” city officials said.