Carla Cheuvront and David Nickeson worked together to fold a large blue tarp, meticulously match the edges and flatten the air gaps.
It was one of many tasks on the couple’s to-do list on Saturday as they neatly tucked away their belongings and left their campsite under the Interstate 5 overpass on Market Street NE before a scheduled sweep on Monday.
The constant hum of traffic and the occasional roar of engines playing in the background looping was largely ignored by Cheuvront, 51, and Nickeson as they worked diligently.
Over a week ago, officials from the Oregon Department of Transportation issued notices ordering campers to remove their belongings from the Market Street site – as well as camps off Salem Parkway near Hyacinth Street. BORN.
The Market Street site, which housed dozens of people homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, appeared largely deserted on Saturday. But tents, shopping carts, blankets, clothes, photos, empty take-out boxes and other personal belongings still littered both sides of the street under the overpass and the grassy area near the highway.
Cheuvront said he saw the notices posted outside his tent nearly two weeks ago, but wishes he had more time to pack. Other campers had dispersed during the week, she said.
At the height of the pandemic, transportation officials refrained from evicting homeless people from state property. But with the recent lifting of emergency restrictions related to COVID-19, clean-ups of campsites across the state have resumed.
Starting Monday, transportation service teams and contractors will pick up trash and personal effects left at the two Salem sites – an estimate from those responsible for the process will take most of the week.
Officials in the city of Salem have started connecting unprotected people with resources ahead of the cleanup, according to city spokeswoman Emily DuPlessis-Enders. There will be a “rest and resource site” Monday at Denny’s at 3680 Market Street NE for advocates and non-profit organizations to meet with affected campers.
On Saturday, a few community members volunteered to help Cheuvront and Nickeson move to private woodlands off Portland Road.
Little by little, they loaded boxes, bikes, crates, blankets, backpacks and small furniture into a small U-Haul truck.
Nickeson deconstructed a folding wooden room divider with a tarp attached. He said the divider, placed in front of their tent entrance, was handy for blocking out bright lights and sounds from the busy intersection.
Cheuvront, who grew up in Salem and attended high schools in North Salem and Sprague, said she had been homeless for five years. She’s been living under the I-5 overpass on Market Street for 10 months.
She said she was offered a link with resources, including a temporary shelter at Simonka Place, a resource center for women and children run by Union Gospel Mission of Salem. She refused.
“I prefer to be here. I like to be here,” she said. “Besides, there are other people who could use it more than I do.”
Still, she and Nickeson have reservations about moving to another location.
Cheuvront has expressed concerns for their safety among other campers who may be there, and Nickeson said without the overpass they would no longer be safe from the elements.
“I just have concerns (the campers) are not going to accept us,” she said. “Then we’ll have to move again. Where are we going to move then?
Transportation officials said the public should expect lane closures on Market Street and Salem Parkway throughout the week to accommodate crews and equipment.
All remaining personal effects will be stored in the ODOT maintenance complex at 885 Airport Road in Salem for 30 days, transportation officials said. All remaining waste will be discarded.