Dignity Village Visitby Paula

Dignity Village began in 2000 as a tent city by a small group of homeless individuals. They were scooted around, ended up under a bridge and finally were located permanently on a piece of city property on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. The Village started as a tent city, but is converting into housing by the residents. They are located right next door to a prison and are on pavement that used to be the City’s composting facility. The city rents the land to them. The community is run and governed by the residents, a maximum of 60 individuals.

At the recent NASNA conference everyone was going to tour Dignity Village on Sunday afternoon, but my plane back to Sacramento was to leave early Sunday morning. So I made the trip out there alone by bus on Saturday after the last workshop and before the conference’s farewell formal dinner. I wondered if I could make it to Dignity Village on the outskirts of the city and get back before the last event, but I had to try. I at least had to pay homage to the Dignitaries that reside in the Village even if I didn’t get to take a tour.

Several years ago SHOC had organized to have a tent city in Sacramento and Dignity Village folks offered every help and support they could via internet. We learned a great deal about their history and struggle. Our tent city never materialized (google “A Tale of Two Tent Cities” by Jason McCannel for an analysis of why Sacramento doesn’t and Portland does have a tent city).

When I got there by the long bus ride by the nicest bus driver, Betty, she said she had a 14 minute layover up ahead and would wait by Dignity Village for me instead. Some villagers were having a yard sale near the entrance and I asked them if Tim was around. He had been one of my email contacts. He was in the main house performing security duty. He asked someone to take over for him while he gave me a tour.

The village is amazing. The grounds are very clean. There are few tents left, so you really can’t call it a tent city anymore. The homeless people keep building cottages. At the NASNA conference we learned from Commissioner Sten that the city relaxed building codes specifically for Dignity Village. The houses they are erecting are well built, with good frames. Some use conventional materials. Others use “bastard cob” which I’m not sure what that consists of but its like cob or adobe. The first house they built, the community house, was made from strawbales. The few remaining tents are on platforms and are very sturdy looking like cottages. The platforms protect them from the winter rains that tend to flood the pavement under the whole village. There is no plumbing in the houses. They have two community showers and 2 portapotties. They have raised bed vegetable gardens. Darn, I forgot to ask where they cook.

Tim was a great tour guide. At the end of the tour I bought a pair of shoes at the yard sale, expressed my gratitude for the tour and for their great work, said goodbye and made it to the bus in time for my ride back to the University, on time to change into my fancy dress for dinner.

The moral of the story: What do you get when you let homeless people stay in one place? Answer: Housing!
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Dignity Tim in the Community House made from strawbale.
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Cob and Conventional Houses

Cob and conventional houses

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The tents are raised up on platforms for protection from the rains.
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Raised bed vegetable garden