Rats, trash, human despair: Oregon homeless camp ‘badder than you imagine’

National News

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — A homeless camp underneath a busy bridge in West Salem was cleaned up — again — by ODOT crews Tuesday morning. And though it’s cleaned up now, it will likely be a cleanup target spot again.

Conditions at the homeless camp have become unsanitary underneath the Marion Street Bridge, a familiar fixture in downtown Salem next to Marion Square Park.

There has been an increase in violent crime and vermin in the area, along with physical waste.

The bike ramp underneath the bridge is occupied by about 45 homeless campers. This spot has been cleaned out before and will likely be cleaned out again.

The cleanup began at sunrise and by 8:30 a.m. most of the people who had been living under the bridge had moved on. But they left behind personal belongings — a lawn mower, a computer keyboard and a lot of garbage.

Social service workers helped start the cleanup and a prison work crew was scheduled to finish it.

Previously the city issued permits for people to hand out meals to the homeless campers under the bridge but have stopped that practice. They want the homeless people to move to a nearby mission for meals and beds.

Social service agencies are typically on scene to help the homeless move along to a better spot. 

Amid the trash, human despair and anguish, one weeping woman prepared to leave the most recent place she knows as home without any real inkling of where she’ll go next.

Terry Balow, an outreach worker with the Salvation Army, has been here for the darker moments of living life under a bridge — anger, mental illness, drug use and human frustration boiling over at times everywhere one looks.  

Yet it was a rat infestation and concern about human health that prompted the city of Salem to move the campers out.

“It just grew and grew and got worse,” Balow said. “It’s badder than people can imagine.”

Salem social service workers say there is some space for people to sleep indoors, and the clean up of this mess isn’t likely to solve this ongoing problem with people living under bridge overpasses less than a mile from the Oregon State Capitol.

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