SAVE THE DATE: Dignity Village at City Council Feb. 26 @ 2pm
Attached is an article from Street Roots about a critical resolution affecting the future of Dignity Village (and possibly other tent cities around the nation) that will be before Portland's City Council THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26 AT 2PM. City Council meets at City Hall, which is 1221 SW 4th Avenue (@ Jefferson) in downtown Portland. BE THERE to support self-determination and community. Todos somos Dignity!
(and by the way, DON'T get used to reading Street Roots online--be sure to pay your buck and buy your copy from your local vendor)
Clock winds down to City Council's decision on Dignity Village
By Israel Bayer
After more than three years of struggle, Dignity Village has attracted a
groundswell of supporters, including church leaders, congregations,
scholars, activists from all walks of life, politicians, philanthropists,
school children, teachers, actors, architects, social-service workers and
It has also racked up dozens of critics and opponents, including
neighborhoods, angry newspaper columnists, shelter providers, and a
reluctant City Hall. None is more vocal than Lars Larson, a talk-show radio
host for 750 KXL.
In November, Larson filed a building complaint about Dignity Village,
forcing the city to act. The complaint-driven system on building codes
requires City Hall to submit a plan to the state building code office by
March 15 about how Dignity Village could comply with state and local
building codes. City Commissioner Erik Sten has sponsored a resolution that
declares the property Dignity Village now occupies as transitional housing.
The resolution is tentatively scheduled for a vote on Feb. 26.
The resolution will once and for all answer a question that has lingered in
Portland for months. Will Dignity Village be able to stay at Sunderland Yard
for the long term, or will the villagers possibly be evicted?
"We are carrying on regardless of what's happening politically," said the
village's vice chairman, Jack Tafari. "We're assuming we will be here for a
decade. We would like to get this designation as a transitional zone and get
on with building a transitional eco-village."
Larson stated in his complaint letter, "The city of Portland has incorrectly
determined that, by declaring Dignity Village transitional housing, they
have rectified the problem. Now that the city has effectively washed its
hands of the issue, we look to the proper agencies of the state of Oregon to
end the illegal and dangerous occupation."
The proposed resolution "Designate the property known as Sunderland Yard as
a campground," by Sten, may not only decide the fate of Dignity Village,
but may also decide the fate of of similar tent cities now under government
Last week, the Denver City Commission approved a plan to create a tent city
to house the homeless on a temporary basis. Key West, Fla., is reviewing a
City officials street roots talked to in Denver and in Key West said they
were watching closely what was happening in Portland. Many advocates
speculate that if Dignity is given a long-term lease the Denver tent city
will be able to maintain a tent city.
The resolution would declare Dignity Village a campground under a state law
that was sponsored by Al King in 1999, a Democrat whose district happens to
include the largest yurt manufacturer in Oregon.
No city commissioner has been more outspoken against the village than
mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi. "When Jim talks to experts in the
affordable housing field, they tend to tell him Dignity Village is not the
best model," said Michael Harrison with Francesconi's office said.
A talk with Michael Anderson with Affordable Housing Now! indicates that
that view may be changing.
"The reality is we are in an affordable housing crisis. And people are
forced to live on the streets, and the people at Dignity are making the best
decisions under the current circumstances," Anderson said.
"Dignity Village's progress is a product of the efforts of dozens of local
organizations and individuals," said Marshall Runkel, aide to Sten. "From
the Environmental Middle School to the Community Cycling Center, Portland
has been inspired by the vision behind Dignity Village."
The resolution that will be proposed to city council later this month states
that homelessness is an ongoing national problem with an estimated 3 million
people sleeping outside. The resolution also states that people who are
homeless are more likely to become victims of violent crimes, especially
women who are more vulnerable to sexual assault than are housed women.
Dignity Village has provided a safe alternative to sleeping outside for the
homeless in Portland, the resolution states.
Dignity Village's summary of the proposal given to the city on Oct. 22
states: "Dignity Village Inc. provides a safe, drug-and alcohol-free,
alternative to the streets for 60 homeless adults every night. In addition
to private temporary dwellings, the village provides basic services
including toilets, showers, cooking facilities, telephone, mail, computer
access, and access to health care. Dignity Village is an unprecedented and
successful effort by individuals experiencing homelessness to create and
govern a community in which they can support each other in the transition
off the streets and into permanent housing."
The proposal goes on to say, the village will continue commitment providing
services to homeless people, but to do so in a much-improved ecologically
sustainable physical environment and in increased cooperation with other
homeless services organizations.
"Dignity Village proposes to enter into a long-term lease with the city of
Portland for its current site. As consideration for this tenancy, Dignity
Village will provide to the city of Portland and its residents a variety of
services that meet the needs of Portland's homeless community with little or
no expenditure of public funds.
The village also promises to substantially upgrade the dwelling structures
and other facilities on the site, using low-cost but architecturally and
ecologically sound development techniques. All upgraded structures will be
portable to minimize the village's impact on the site and to allow Dignity
Village to relocate the structures with minimal disruption to its services
once a permanent site is obtained."
One of the biggest obstacles, villagers say, is getting critics, such as
Lars Larson, to visit the village and judge for themselves what people
experiencing homelessness are doing for themselves.
"We need to build relationships everywhere we go," said Genny Nelson,
director of crossroads and a Dignity Village supporter. "How will we know we
are successfully creating a life with dignity for everyone in Portland if we
don't, for instance, visit Dignity Village and stay long enough to listen to
its membership talk about how their direct action three years ago birthed a
self-determination evident in their messages and in their daily activities
to stand up for their freedom; and then ushered in an international movement
to stand up for all homeless people in the world."
Please call City Hall at 503-823-4000 for information on the exact date and
time of the Portland City Council meeting. At press time it was set 2 p.m.,
Feb. 26, in City Hall, but that time is subject to change.
Key West: City and county officials proposed building a small tent city by
the end of the year. Until then, they are working on creating a temporary
version of their plan. Over the years, the city has proposed various ways to
deal with the influx, including a failed plan to send transients 150 miles
north to shelters in Miami. shelter, for them. Homeless people are banned
from the more tourist areas of the small city.
Denver: Denver's proposed tent city is envisioned as a transitional housing
until residents can get back on their feet. It would house up to 200 people
and be self-governed by residents. A survey by an advocacy group estimates
the homeless population in Denver at about 9,700. The number of shelter beds
has remained at about 1,000 since the early 1990s.
Tent city in Aurora, Ill., dates back more than 15 years
Aurora, Ill., is home to one of the nation's oldest continuing tent cities,
dating back about 15 years. It is not autonomous, but an extension of the
PADS emergency overnight shelter program. But like every tent city, it is a
mechanism of community and survival created by the homeless, for the
"There's a lot of homelessness here," said Sister Rose Marie Lorentzen,
executive director of PADS and Hesed House, the nonprofit organization
through which PADS operates. "We're an old industrial town with a lot of
steel producers, and then the bottom fell out."
PADS operates a shelter during the winter months, but during the summer,
when Hesed House wasn't open, a tent city began taking shape in the
property's backyard for people who didn't have any other options. As years
passed, more and more tents appeared and were donated to the residents. By
1989, the tent city was formalized as a summer program, tucked back behind
Hesed House, complete with membership identification cards and a structure
The tent city sets up every year in June and continues until October. Last
summer, 95 people called the city home. Each night, residents can come
inside Hesed House for three hours to take showers, do laundry and even
watch a little television. There is no religious requirement attached to the
Despite its long history and isolated location, the tent city still draws
controversy. A former mayor threatened to shut down the tent city, but
Lorentzen responded that the residents had nowhere else to go other than
back to the city's main streets, doorways and parks. Nothing more was said.
Lorentzen said the tent city also is supported by a network of volunteers
connected through the winter shelter program. The shelter system rotates
from church to church, night after night, bringing the city's homeless
population before an audience that has come to better understand the issues
"We've got about 5,000 people who are getting to know poor and homeless
people face to face," Lorentzen said. "Every one of those 5,000 people goes
off to work the next day, and talks to their coworkers about it. It's very
healthy for the community."
Lorentzen has strong words for the notion that a tent city for the homeless
undermines efforts to get people into affordable housing.
"It's just crap." Lorentzen said. "There's nothing about it that's got any
honesty. For people to be so completely committed to advocacy that they are
not willing to spend effort on the Band-aid, I think that's crap."
"We need the people on the front lines to say absolutely no to unjustice in
whatever form, to anything that is degrading of the human spirit."
Lorentzen demands not sympathy for the cause, but systemic advocacy.
"What I say to our volunteers who are here, if you are seeing homeless
people and seeing injustice in their situation, you have a special
responsibility to do something to change their situation."
Street roots editorial on tent cities
Many media outlets continues to give voice to those who want to see Dignity
Village fail, while ignoring those in the community that want to see the
village succeed? Many organizations working with the homeless and affordable
housing around the country continue to denounce groups of people who
organize a democratic movement on the front lines of what may be the choice
between life and death. Life being that of a group of people sleeping
together in open spaces to protect themselves. Death being sleeping alone in
an empty doorway or tucked away under a bridge somewhere. And if you think
this issue doesn't mean the difference between life and death, you are
A homeless person sleeping alone is much more prone to violence, sexaul
assaults, police harassment and acts of hate crimes. If you are a woman,
forget about it. To put it bluntly, it is deadly, if not to the body, to the
Have we come so far that we have forgotten about today, right now, in our
own lives? Must we continue to treat human beings like line graphs to be
displayed in Power Point presentations projecting how we as a society are
going to deal with homelessness and gain affordable housing?
Does denouncing a group of people who have nothing left except their
sleeping bag, a knap-sack, their dreams and their pride bring solace to
politicians, service providers, angry editorial boards, and talk radio
Organizations must stop hiding behind the myth that we have enough adequate
shelter beds for the amount of people that sleep on the streets or that
affordable housing is right around the corner. This kind of thinking doesn't
lead to solutions, in fact, it's hogwash. The myth isn't big enough to
shield the people on the streets from days and nights of rain and cold, lost
jobs, lost friends, and lost hope.
Denver's and Key West's city officials, homeless populations, advocates, and
hungry editorial boards are waiting and watching. What will happen with
Dignity Village? If the village remains a city-sanctioned tent city, then
ripple effects spanning the entire continent may be felt. These cities and
many more to come will be more prone to experiment with the idea of being
not just a tent city, but a sustainable, safe living environment for people
sleeping on the streets.
Is this about 60 people who sleep out near the airport in what we know as
Dignity Village? No, it's about civil and human rights. It's about 3.5
million people now experiencing homelessness across our nation. It's about
millions more being unemployed and on the verge of homelessness. It's about
the single mother who is working 70 hours a week supporting her family on
minimum wage. It's about soaring housing costs. It's about our mothers and
fathers, sons and daughters, cousins, uncles, aunts and peers who are two
paychecks away from sleeping alone in a doorway or under a bridge.
We shouldn't support Dignity Village based on politics or ideology, pity or
fear. We should support Dignity Village because it is the right thing to do.
Cold weather takes its toll on rising populations of homeless
Ice, snow and subfreezing temperatures settled in over much of the eastern
half of the country, brutally exposing a deepening social crisis of poverty
and unemployment that has left record numbers homeless.
The World Socialist Web Site: http://wsws.org reports that homeless shelters
from Maryland to Colorado and throughout the Northeast have been filled to
overflowing. In New York City, the homeless population has set new records,
with more than 38,000 people seeking aid from the city.
In Omaha, Neb., a homeless shelter administrator told KETV Channel 7 News
that it was feeding as many as 1,000 homeless and poor people a night as
temperatures fell below zero.
An administrator at the homeless shelter in the town of Salisbury on the
eastern shore of Maryland told the local paper, The Daily Times, "We turn a
lot of people away—about 200 to 250 a month." Of those denied shelter, he
added, 60 percent had come with their children. He attributed the growth in
the homeless population to recent layoffs at a Tyson Foods plant and the
shutdown of a Black & Decker factory.
In Chicago, a homeless man became the eighth known victim of hypothermia in
the city since October. In Milwaukee, Wis., two homeless men died in the
cold this month. Ira Porter, 44, was found dead in a trash bin on January
20, and four days later, John MacDonald, 53, was found dead in a truck.
Four homeless men are known to have frozen to death in New York City during
the last month. Other cases may simply have gone unreported.
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