Tag Archives: Dignity Village

Seattle councilmen tour Dignity Village

Seattle Councilman Nick Licata, left, speaks with Dignity Village member Scott Layman inside of the common room during a tour of Dignity Village Friday, March 4. Licata was joined by fellow council members Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen. Seattle is considering recreating a similar agreement for tent cities residents in Seattle. For more than a decade, Dignity Village has worked with the city as a transitional housing option for people working to move out of homelessness.

Above, Seattle Councilmen Sally Bagshaw, left, and Nick Licata, right, take photographs of the structures at Dignity Village during a tour given by villager Scott Layman, center. Photos by Amiran White.

Seattle Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw blogged about the visit to Dignity.

A brief history of the Out of the Doorways campaign, part one

“Until lions have their history, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” – Professor Frederick W. Hickling

The Homeless Front was a company of equals, considered the best we Portland homeless had to capture our first piece of public land on a cold December day. Not all of us are pictured here — Grandma Jada might have been sleeping in her teepee when this photo was taken. We were radical and militant fi true. We were old and young; black, white, and red; Rasta, Muslim, Christian, and Atheist. We were also freezing cold and fed up with the way things were. It was the first year of a new millennium and we wanted to begin a new beginning.

We were the frontline soldiers of the Out of the Doorways campaign. The housed side of our campaign had urged us to wait until we’d finished writing our mission statement before taking our first site but we already knew our mission. The Street Roots story said “Out of the Doorways by Christmas.” We were coming in from the cold.

“On December 16th of the year 2000, a group of eight homeless men and women pitched five tents on public land and Camp Dignity, later to become Dignity Village, was born. We came out of the doorways of Portland’s streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of public parks, we came openly with nothing and no longer a need to hide as Portland’s inhumane and Draconian camping ban had just been overturned on two constitutional grounds. We came armed with a vision of a better future for ourselves and for all of Portland, a vision of a green, sustainable urban village where we can live in peace and improve not only the condition of our own lives but the quality of life in Portland in general. We came in from the cold of a December day and we refuse to go back to the way things were.” (DV Archive http://www.dignityvillage.org)

Mek I fling a likkle back-story inna de mix. My name is Jack Tafari and I came to Portland via Salem, Oregon, in February 2000. I‘d recently come to live inna ‘merica from England, the island of my birth. My daughter, who me love dearly, lives in Vancouver in nearby British Columbia.

In Salem I was unfairly dismissed from a new job that had taken over a month to find. By the time my dismissal was overturned thus allowing my claim for the unemployment insurance owed for over a year’s worth of eighty-hour weeks worked a state away, I was quite homeless, living inna doorway in Portland.

In Portland I found work vending the new street paper on the scene. Street Roots, “the paper for those who can’t afford free speech,” provided tremendous opportunities for its homeless vendors, not least of which was a warm and welcoming office with hot coffee priced at what each vendor could afford to pay. Street Roots also provided workshops in poetry, creative writing, taught basic journalistic skills and even welcomed contributions from vendors, many of whom live in the most wretched and appalling of conditions.

I began writing for Street Roots at first as a way to try to improve my paper sales, writing from my own experience about what was happening around me. My first dub poem “Introdukshan” saw ink there early in the New Year. I wrote about mi bredrin Winston who I met in Seattle a couple of years before and about HIM Haile Selassie I’s visit to Jamaica in 1966. Other poems and stories followed. Continue reading

Another Dignity Village? Why Not?


Street Roots editorial from May 15, 2008

Dignity Village II? Why not? It would take a special set of circumstances to create another tent city or semi-permanent, off-the-grid community, but it’s not altogether out of the question.

The Dignity Village model has been heralded as a success by many, and communities nationwide have looked to it as a model to emulate. Critics say the village is dangerous because it doesn’t always meet housing and fire codes, but the idea that homeless folks are safer sleeping alone in a doorway or under a bridge is disturbing.

City Hall says all options are on the table for providing housing and helping people experiencing homelessness, but we all know that’s political speak. The chance that the city, left to its own devices, would duplicate a community like Dignity Village is slim to none.

It’s not that our current city council wouldn’t have the heart to put together such a package. It’s more that they don’t have the capacity to deal with the public relations blowback that would occur.

As one city official told Street Roots anonymously, “Finding a place to put a large group of homeless folks is a nightmare. There’s the neighborhood groups and businesses that don’t want public housing in their area, much less a homeless camp.”

Plus, the local media would most likely turn such an effort into a circus. Most newspapers in town didn’t support the first Dignity Village, and Street Roots assumes that hasn’t changed. Nationally, every newspaper from the New York Times to USA Today would flock to Portland to cover a duplication effort.

It might seem logical for our elected leaders to think outside the box and be progressive on these issues, but the risk is too high. They’d face accusations that Portland is too soft on the homeless, or that they’re enabling poor people.

But if the city won’t do it, maybe a steadfast group of concerned people should plant a new tent city themselves. If they harness the media attention and are on-target with their messaging, they could force Portland to become not only the nation’s first city to sanction a semi-permanent community for the homeless, but the first to duplicate it.

The atmosphere is ripe for such a move. Arguments over the sit-lie ordinance have distraced from the larger issue: the civil rights of people experiencing homelessness. Not that we think sit-lie isn’t a civil rights issue, because it is. It’s just that the conversation today is being played out more in the media than on the ground. At the same time, thousands of park exclusions continue to be given out by private police, the camping ordinance is still in motion and the police sweep neighborhoods at will — and there’s little anyone can do about it.

Instead of playing defense, maybe concerned citizens, community organizations and people living on and off the streets should assert their own rights. Considering the current economic climate, Street Roots could see people rallying behind another Dignity Village. Why not?

Photo by Ken Hawkins

Dignity Village today


Dignity Village has battled through a turbulent past to arrive where it is today. Starting as a group of eight men and women who pitched five tents on public land nearly nine years ago, the village today is a far cry from a tent city that came to symbolize the struggle of people experiencing homelessness — not only in Portland, but around the country.

“I wouldn’t call them a tent city,” says Sally Erickson, who oversees Portland’s 10-year plan to end homelessness with the Bureau of Housing and Community Development. “I would call them a community.”

“I think it has been a social experiment that illustrates what people with little to no resources were able to pull together to create a healthy and functioning community,” says Wendy Kohn of Kwamba Productions, which is putting together a documentary about the group over the past decade.

“At so many points along the way, they could have failed,” Kohn goes on to say. “It could have flamed out and become an example of a group of people trying to do something positive and coming up short — like so many times throughout history. Instead we see, over a ten-year period, a group of people who haven’t failed and are still recreating themselves through a democratic process.”

News organizations around the country reference Dignity Village as a sidenote when they write about the growing number of tent cities in the United States. Typically summed up in a sentence or two, the village is described as a success. To the local public in Portland, however, Dignity Village has seemed fairly quiet — yet that’s a far cry from the truth.

Last year alone, the village had more than 1,000 visitors — mostly housing activists, students, faith-based community members, policy wonks and politicians from five continents and eight countries.

Erickson says she takes calls from all over the country from city governments and other parties interested in the village.

Erickson points them to the Tent City Toolkit, an interactive DVD the village created with Kwamba Productions. The toolkit takes individuals on the streets through the step-by-step process of turning a tent city into a semi-permanent community through direct action. That a city official would promote tent city information at all may mean that even at the government level, our city is more progressive than most.

“I tell them Dignity Village was and is unique,” says Erickson. “It wasn’t like the city just created a tent city. (Dignity Village) fought for everything they have, but they also created a non-profit after realizing the political dynamics involved and overcame many obstacles. Dignity Village should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Kohn agrees. She says Portland is lucky to have had the personalities on the streets that it did when the village was born.

“(The organizers) were politically and socially sophisticated,” says Kohn. “After the city realized they weren’t going away under any circumstances, (the city) began to create an absence of barriers, so to speak, and waited to see if the village would fail or be successful. Today there’s a new generation carrying that same spirit on and (they) are doing remarkably well.” Continue reading

Extra! Extra!

May1509streetroots_Page_01Dignity Village today: Street Roots spends some time at the village and writes an in-depth five page look at Dignity Village today and the lives of the people that live and work there. We ask the Mayor and Commissioners if Dignity Village II could happen and offer our own perspective on the pros and cons of another semi-permanent structure. Street Roots looks at tent cities in Nashville, Seattle and Sacramento. Israel Bayer reports.

Miracle Theater: Street Roots looks at Miracle Theater, a Latino-focused playhouse working to change the way people think from both the Spanish and English speaking populations. The group is also reaching out to Latino youth in Portland and working to change young people perspectives through drama.  Joanne Zuhl reports.

Environmentalists charge up to challenge coal:
Street Roots talks to Oregon’s Sierra Club about federal policy, local activism and what lies ahead for Oregonians on the environmental front. Mara Grunbaum reports.

Seattle is putting a $143 low-income housing levy on the ballot and it’s projected to pass. Get the scoop from your friendly neighborhood tomorrow. They will be glad to great you with all the latest news, poems and stories from the streets – including a disturbing first hand account of woman being raped on the streets.

All this and more in tomorrows edition of Street Roots.

Full story: Making a pitch for tents

(Story from June 27 issue) By Amanda Waldroupe

One of the reverberating aftershocks of the three-week-long homeless protest outside City Hall is the question of whether Portland needs another “tent city” to solve the problem of homelessness.

“It’s necessary because of the amount of poor people who need a place to be other than outside,” says Larry Reynolds, one of the protest’s leaders.

The resolve and desire may exist at the street level, but another question begs raising: is there the support among the people who can actually make another tent city happen?

“There’s a million other questions I would ask,” says Mark Lakeman, the founder of the City Repair Project and the architect and designer of Dignity Village.

“Shall people be engaged in converting their own problems into their own solutions? Shall a group of people living in streets see themselves as having value? Can they contribute to the world? Of course,” he says.

Continue reading

We’re waiting.

Street Roots editorial, June 27.

After more than three weeks of protests by individuals experiencing homelessness, countless actions (including actions by Street Roots and Sisters Of The Road), weekly testimonials from individuals in front of City Council and the realization for many that we are indeed dealing with a housing crisis, Portland finds itself at a crossroads.

City Hall has sent a clear and consistent message that both the camping ordinance and the sit-lie ordinance will not be repealed, at least not in the near future.

First and foremost, the outrage on the streets is in direct response to a lack of housing and the realities that come with not having a home. For many, those realities come in the form of the enforcement of obscene laws, meant to keep order and maintain business as usual.

Both the camping and sit-lie laws, coupled with park exclusions (overseen by a private security agency that continues to go unchecked) and programs like the Service Coordination Team, are intended to maintain order downtown and to ultimately help individuals. But it’s time our politicians faced the cold, hard facts that these laws are breaking people’s spirits.

Beyond facing the great wilderness of being homeless, individuals on the streets are being constantly harassed by law enforcement and private security agencies that have no clear solutions other than to push them out of sight.

In the past six weeks, many of those individuals have refused to remain invisible.

Continue reading

A pitch for tents

Is Portland ready – or willing – to create another tent city for the homeless? Reporter Amanda Waldroupe takes an in-depth look at the politics surrounding another tent city, or what some individuals on the streets are calling a “green zone.”

We look at Dignity Village eight years after it’s formation. How is the village fairing? What is life like right now at Dignity? Are people being housed? You might be surprised.

Other features this week include opinions from the Mental Health Association of Portland, the New Sanctuary Movement and a look at poverty and justice with Father Loughery with the Downtown Chapel.

Our sister paper in Argentina spends a day talking Che, life as president and politics with the Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, Evo Morales.

Street Roots catches up with homeless youth outreach worker Dennis Lundberg, and looks at lessons to be learned on the 75th anniversary of the New Deal.

You’d be crazy not to pick up a Street Roots coming out tomorrow.