Fifteen-years ago, a young man was asked by a pastor to volunteer for the Point in Time Count. PIT helps program administrators and policymakers measure progress towards decreasing homelessness, while also identifying areas of strengths and opportunities. This man spent his day interviewing 25 homeless individuals, asking them questions about their lives and listening closely to their life experiences. By the end of the day, this same man had made twenty-five new community friends and in the years that followed, he would perform five of their weddings, twelve of their funerals, and house all but one of them. This man’s name is Douglass Vincent, deputy director of the non-profit Salem Leadership Foundation.

Like so many of us, D.J. was overwhelmed with the amount of homelessness in the Salem-Keizer area and wanted to do something about it, so he chose to get involved. In the past 15 years since D.J. joined the Salem Leadership Foundation, has become the South Salem Lightning Rod along with many other honorary titles. I personally met D.J. five years ago, when I first volunteered for the annual Salem-Keizer Homeless Connect. This event really touched my heart because it provides the opportunity to sit down and have conversations with the homeless in our community. I started washing dishes for this event and slowly through the years, have moved up in volunteer ranks. I now help run the Friendship Cafe which is the best pop up restaurant in Salem. In 2019, we served almost 1,000 meals. This annual event also assists the homeless in our community by providing; support services, pet care, dental and medical services, clothing, hygiene kits, and so much more. However, due to Covid-19, this successful community event had to cancel its 2020 and now 2021 community connect, leaving a large community gap to fill. 

D.J. found himself wanting to fill this gap and was inspired by the Dignity Village located up in NE Portland, which provides shelter for 60 people a night since 2000, and wants to create a similar model in the Salem-Keizer area. In an interview with D.J, he told me he “wanted to create a safe place where people could choose to camp safely, in a space of their own with access to bathrooms and showers instead of camping alongside roads or parks.” This inspiration helped create a partnership between the City of Salem, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, and Church at the Park, which opened up a temporary campsite at the Oregon State Fairgrounds’ Pavilion located at 2330 17th Street NE. D.J. stated “that this campsite can host up to 100 homeless guests in 50 socially distanced taped off campsites per night. Providing guests with a safe place to sleep, a warm meal, hot showers and the opportunity to access supportive services in order to locate permanent housing. This temporary campsite is currently operating 24-7 and will soon be opening up 4-hour shifts for community members to volunteer beginning Monday, February 15th.”

As I talked with D.J, it became apparent that a lot of heart and soul went into this project. When I asked D.J. what three words would best describe the temporary campsite at the Pavillion, he replied, “safe, welcoming and full.” I believe that D.J. accomplished all three of those things because upon my arrival, I observed the dignity and respect offered to all of the guests in the buildings. 

D.J. walked me through the process of arrival for guests at the Pavillion. After the guest is greeted with a warm welcome, a Covid screening test is conducted upon entering the facility for everyone’s safety. Once they’ve checked in, the guests are guided to the Pavillion floor where areas are marked by different colored tapes. D.J. explained that the pink taped areas were for single women, the orange taped areas were for the single men, and the blue taped areas were for the families. “All singles or families are provided a private 15×15 area, including a tent, sleeping bags, blankets and an area to store their personal belongings” stated D.J. This includes whatever the guest carries in with them as well as pets, as long as they are on a leash at all times. Guests are given the opportunity to take hot showers, find clean clothes, and charge their cell phones at multiple charging stations. All guests have access to social service resources, and a hospitality station filled with snacks and water, as well as one communal meal provided by a variety of fabulous community restaurants, including our very own Little Lois Cafe.  

I am simply in awe of what D.J. and our community leader’s have accomplished and are providing to homeless people during these difficult times. If you would like to help, you can. You can either volunteer your time beginning February 15th or you can purchase items needed for the guests such as; 6-person tents, coffee, hot 8-12 oz cups, oatmeal packets, cup of noodles, snack bars, clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, socks, and gallon distilled water jugs. These items will go to the sorting center at 3104 Turner Rd SE, open from1-6pm. You can also donate money to www.church-at-the-park.org/give Church at the Park and help the homeless people in our community. It is the Titan Way!

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