Its all about Community...
Dignity Village may be only a motley collection
of 54 tents covering a city block of ODOT land under the Fremont Bridge,
but for its 80 residents who might otherwise inhabit doorways and
sidewalks it is much more. It is an island of peace and safety in
a raging sea of substance abuse, crime, isolation, catch-22 joblessness,
political and societal impotence and alienation that is the lot of
most homeless people. More importantly, Dignity is a living example
of what a group of individuals can achieve by working together for
a common goal.
| Miriam Knight
This is the third site for Dignity, and they are under notice to
vacate by July 1st. City Commissioner Erik Sten has been
sympathetic to the group, as have neighboring businesses and St.
Patricks Church, who note in their letters of support that
street litter and vandalism in the neighborhood have gone down.
Ironically it was a complaint registered by a former villager evicted
for breaking the ban on drugs, alcohol and violence that triggered
the machinery of City Planning regulations.
There are about 600 shelter beds in Portland and about 3,000 homeless
people (many prefer the term "houseless"), leaving about
2,400 to sleep outside. Given the limited options, Dignity has proved
itself to be an attractive and helpful model. They see themselves
as the mothership creating a model of hope for others
in their situation. By choosing to band together, this disparate
group has succeeded in creating a self-policing and mutually supportive
community. With their own council they established a set of rules
and a schedule of chores. The result is a clean, safe environment
that has extended to their whole neighborhood; a community free
of theft, drugs and alcohol, its residents able to leave their belongings
to go look for work, and know that they will be there when they
It may not sound like much to those of us who take these things
for granted, but to the members of Dignity it is life-changing.
It is no wonder that they are resisting the eviction notice by all
In their June 7th editorial, the Oregonian accused Dignitys
residents of alienating some Portlanders with their sweeping
assumption that they have the right to park indefinitely on public
land. Aside from displaying a certain meanness of spirit,
this remark displays a blindness, a) to the magnitude of the achievement,
and b) to its real essence. It is not about claiming public land;
it is about claiming their self-respect and regaining some control
over their lives; it is about acknowledging that without rules,
a community breaks down; it is about learning to trust again; it
is about trusting enough to accept help and loving enough to give
it back. For many of the Villagers, trust is the emotional equivalent
of scaling the Matterhorn, and they have done it!
If Dignity Village is disbanded without being offered an alternative
site, these fragile achievements risk being shattered and any trust
the villagers have developed in their ability to change their lives
in the face of the system will be destroyed. The achievements
of the human spirit are to be treasured and nurtured wherever they
are found; how much more so when they bloom, however tentatively,
in the dark shadows of city bridges and doorways. The bonds of community
created within Dignity Village will survive more moves, but they
wont survive being scattered back into the street.
Dignity Village is not a bunch of freeloaders. They have taken
advantage of their brief time of stability and have built an impressive
fund to buy themselves a permanent home. They have created an organic
farm on donated land near Vancouver called Digsville, and hope to
be able to provide their own food, and sell the rest. But they
need more time.
PLEASE - an angel is truly needed here to offer a site for
this community. A permanent site would be great, but even a temporary
site would be a blessing. If you have some empty land, or are on
the council of a church, non-profit or other corporation who would
welcome the opportunity to walk their talk, call John Hubbird, the
Coordinator of the Site Development Team at 503-295-7747.