Dignity Village received an outpouring of community support today for its proposal before City Council to acquire an indefinite variance in order to remain located for the time being at their Sunderland Yard site near the Portland airport, until such time as a permanent site can be located.
Witnesses from a diverse assortment of community organizations testfied in support of the proposal. Mark Lakeman of City Repair described the aspirations of the village to become a model of ecological urban living. Homeless advocates and village residents explained the important functions that the village serves. Many witnesses attested to the sense of empowerment that people gained from enjoying a measure of autonomy and self management in the village.
Members of the city-appointed homelessness task force praised villagers for their impressive competence in developing leadership skills, running a well organized, responsible operation, and developing and implementing a visionary plan from the bottom up. Witnesses attested that villagers have managed to operate the village themselves at all levels, from basic security and maintenance, to construction, to grant writing and planning for expansion, all at a fraction of the cost of the same number of beds in a city-subsidized shelter.
Dignity's proposal to declare their site a "campground" in accordance with ORS 455.252 was approved in a 4-1 vote. Following the overwhelmingly supportive and often emotional testimony, one of the two holdouts on the council, Dan Saltzman, announced that he would support the proposal, with the proviso that the village should pay for its own water and power. Commissioner Randy Leonard had previously questioned this penny-pinching demand, citing the cost savings Dignity enjoyed as compared to traditional homeless shelters. Saltzman, however, citing the repeated statements by witnesses that Dignity Village was not a "permanent solution to homelessness," stated his unwillingness to subsidize the Village on the grounds that this could reduce funding for officially sanctioned city programs.
Only a single witness testified in opposition to Dignity Village, a resident of Oregon City who argued against the proposal, arguing to the effect that "too much money is spent on welfare programs already, and these programs are harmful to our freedoms."
The lone remaining holdout against the proposal, Commissioner and mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi, prefaced his statements with a deep sigh and the disclaimer that he "sure wish[ed] [he] could vote for this," but that he had to defer to the judgment of "experts in the field, people who have devoted their lives to this problem," such as the director of Central City Concerns, who had expressed opposition to the proposal. Francesconi also cited the testimony of one of the elected officers of Dignity Village to the effect that they had had rodent problems which they were attending to, and argued that he couldn't countenance lowering health and safety standards.