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Home for the homeless?

The Dignity Village encampment in Northeast Portland has long been an unusual development, and it may become even more unusual – one of the most provocative places associated with the homeless anywhere in the country.

Dignity Village, photo by portland ground

Five years and 11 days ago a group of homeless people set up camp at the location, called Camp Dignity at first, later Dignity Village. (The photos here are from the portland ground website.)

The group’s website (!) leads with a credo: “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.”

To be homeless may often be equated with being helpless. But not in this case.

Dignity Village, photo by portland groundDignity Village has been a community flashpoint for a while, but in considerable part because of its very existence – a specific physical location (unlike any other in the Northwest) where the problem of homelessness resides. But it has turned into something else: A community, which has actually set about starting to solve some of its own problems.

Thus the headline in today’s Oregonian, reporting that leaders of Dignity Village have reached a negotiated agreement with the city of Portland for a formal status for their settlement, and terms and conditions under which it will operate. From the story: “The proposed agreement would essentially allow the village to manage the site with city oversight that would include regular visits from the police and fire bureaus, as well as detailed records regarding who lives there. The village also would have to be financially self-sufficient, with the help of private fundraising.”

Is this a workable – or for that matter desirable – model for the homeless in other cities? Is this kind of organized community possibly a way out for the homeless? Or is the launch of a new kind of ghetto, with a new kind of segregation?

Thoughts and ideas on this one are very much welcome …

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