Tuesday 19th August 7:00 p.m 'DIGNITY VILLAGE',Portland,Oregon, USA
Dignity Village is home to sixty homeless people; a tent city on the outskirts of the city of Portland. This is no ramshackle shanty town though. It's run by a council of members who've registered their non-profit organization. This small but enthusiastic group work hard to ensure safe secure accommodation for people who would otherwise be sleeping in doorways and alleys, as well as a sense of community. They provide free local phonecalls and internet access and help in finding employment. The village council receives no funding at all from any government departments, but operates on contributions from private individuals and donations of food and assorted products from local businesses. They've been kind enough to take me in as a guest, and have housed me in the 'penthouse suite', their first straw bale house! I was lucky enough to have arrived on a very special day. Chrissy, a local Portland lady and a long time supporter of the village, has organized a picnic for the residents. I went along with her and a couple of others to help with gathering the supplies from Costco, a discount supermarket. We bought chicken, sliced ham, cheeses, assorted salads, fruit and vegetable platters and cartons of soft drink. Chrissy had some money left over so she even had a few pizzas delivered to complete the banquet.
This place is really impressive. It's a drug and alcohol free zone, and that rule extends to a one block radius of the boundary. Of course, as with any large group of people who live in close quarters, things aren't always plain sailing. I witnessed a couple of angry confrontations this afternoon, between residents who had different ideas about what it means to live in a community. But when we turned up with the food, any petty bickerings were quickly forgotten. These are Americans who for a variety of reasons have found themselves in a desperate situation, and have been let down by a system that would prefer to build bombs than feed their hungry citizens. In spite of this, they can still smile and laugh. In the few hours I've been here, I've met just about everyone, although I don't remember them all by name.
With the funds they raise from donations, Dignity Village rents this parcel of land from the local council. I would have thought the local council would be supportive of any such program that takes the homeless 'problem' out of public view, but in fact the council has made it difficult for the members from the start. Three hundred homeless people have been through Dignity Village since it was established on this site two years ago. Jack, Dogdave and Tim keep track of many who have moved on, and are proud to say that many go on to permanent work and some are even now paying off their own homes. Before the village was on it's current site, the campers were moved on from place to place; a total of five sites in less than a year. It seems everyone wants a solution to the problem of homelessness, but no-one wants it in their own backyard.
I spoke with Tim, the treasurer of Dignity Village. Tim also plays the role of 'outreach co-ordinator'. I couldn't figure out what the role of an outreach co-ordinator for a tent city could be. Tim explained that he's regularly approached to speak at local schools about what it's like to be homeless. He talks to classes about various aspects of the homeless situation, depending to the age of the children. He also works closely with a local university, which recently made available free computing courses for the residents. On behalf of my poor but generous hosts here at Dignity Village, I invite you to visit their website www.dignityvillage.org They appreciate your taking the time to learn about their community.