Nathan Rose tells the Salem Statesman Journal that he and his girlfriend were in their tent when they heard two loud thuds. The car just missed their tent, Rose said.
Rose said he saw some of his friends pinned under the car and called 911. He said he helped pull one person from under the car but witnesses were unable to help the others.
“From there, it was just chaos,” Rose told the newspaper.
The crash happened at about 2 a.m. Sunday near a new men’s shelter, which has beds for about 300 people, and a program that offers emergency housing assistance and other services for the homeless.
The camp is a small triangle of trees and grass in the area of Front Street and Division Street Northeast, not far from the Willamette River.
Two people who were at the encampment died at the scene. Four others were taken to Salem Health with with life-threatening injuries and two died at the hospital. The driver was also taken to the hospital.
Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said homeless people spend much of their day trying to find a safe place to sleep and rest, “but events like this remind us that there is no safe space.”
“No one deserves to have to live in unsheltered conditions and they damn sure do not deserve to die in them,” Jones said. “Tragedies like this will continue until this nation makes a serious commitment to the idea that housing is a human right, and that everyone deserves a warm, safe and dry place where they can live with dignity.”
More than 1,000 people sleep outside in the Salem area on any given night, the newspaper reported. The city has a population of over 175,000, according to the 2020 U.S. census.
Mike Wade came to the camp after hearing one of his close friends had died. He helped others in the camp salvage their belongings and prayed for the victims.
“It gets me weaker every day hearing about us die one by one,” Wade said. “My friends are dead and I don’t know what to say.”
Officials have not released the names of anyone involved, the conditions of those who remain hospitalized or said what caused the crash.
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