Salem City Council revisits controversial sidewalk ordinance

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The City Council in Salem, Oregon, is debating an ordinance that would bar people from sitting and sleeping on city sidewalks.

The Statesman Journal reports the Council voted 5-4 Monday to craft a proposal and discuss sit-lie — and possibly vote on it — at their next meeting Feb. 24. The move comes almost two months after a camping ban pushed dozens of homeless people into sleeping outside downtown businesses.

Previously proposed ordinances aimed at stopping the homeless from camping on public sidewalks — especially downtown where they’re especially visible to drivers, shoppers and business owners — failed in both 2017 and 2019 after the Council received push back from the public.

The discussion Monday alternated between weary and angry, with some councilors accusing their colleagues of ignoring the facts and twisting the truth.

Councilor Chris Hoy said the city clearly doesn’t have a strategy and needs to stop “wasting time and energy” on jumping from solution to solution without a clear plan.

The city does have a strategy, Councilor Brad Nanke replied. They all agree about having a low-barrier shelter and more housing. But the issue at hand is how to handle the influx of people sleeping on sidewalks downtown.

“It isn’t compassionate to let people sit in their own filth on the streets,” he said.

Several councilors said a sit-lie ordinance simply won’t work.

A camping ban didn’t make people “magically disappear,” and neither will sit-lie, said Councilor Vanessa Nordyke. She also questioned the constitutionality of such an ordinance.

Mayor Chuck Bennett assured Councilman Tom Andersen there would be enough shelter space if police began enforcing a sit-lie ordinance.

“I’m not convinced that we do,” Andersen responded.


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