by Bryan Pollard
On December 16 of last year, a small group of women and men, occupying six tents, set out to find welcome ground for Dignity Village. Since then, it has broken ground on four different sites, grown in size to about 35 tents, and formed a system of governance that sees to the safety of its participants. With a food preparation area, portable toilets, a storage tent, and heated "watch" tent, it has become a hospitable place where weary people can rest.
Dignity Village, a product of the Out of the Doorways campaign, is being created to provide a "safe, clean, community-based alternative for those who are currently seeking shelter but are unable to find it," according to the Dignity proposal drafted by street roots and City Repair Project. The campaign, initiated by street roots staffers Jack Tafari, Bryan Pollard, Remona Cowles and Brent Snyder last September, was inspired by the operation of DomeVillage in Los Angeles (see September, 2000 issue). The campaign has grown quickly, and now hosts involvement from many organizations, including City Repair Project, Outside In, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Sisters of the Road Cafe, Martial Art Gallery, JOIN, Transition Projects, Inc. and the Oregon Law Center, not to mention hundreds of individuals, businesses, churches, and schools that have donated their time and energy to helping Dignity flourish.
Dignity is home to an eclectic group of formerly homeless people who work together to see that everyone's needs are met. John Reese, a disabled Vietnam vet, has been with the camp since day 1, and is the official marshall of the popular "shopping cart parades." Organizer Jack Tafari, a Rastafarian poet and author, has been instrumental in supporting the morale and functioning of the camp, and has taken charge of the sanitation. Campers Virus, J.P., Tim B. and Ibrihim all contribute to safety issues. Mike Broderick, street roots senior vendor and poet, has also lent his support and knowledge, as has former Portland mayoral candidate Jada Mae Langloss, who was elected Provisional Mayor of Dignity Village, and has shared her wisdom and stories with all.
Campaign organizers hope to secure a private land donation or the funding to buy private land by this summer. There are several fundraising efforts in the works, and Reverend Ronald Williams is organizing an interracial, interdenominational banquet for the end of February, time and location to be announced. Once it has found a resting place, Commissioner Erik Sten has pledged to work with Dignity to integrate it into the continuum of services available in the city, and Bureau of Housing and Community Development officials have already started visiting Dignity's residents.
For more information or to get involved, contact Out of the Doorways organizers Hannah Zaiv at (503) 659-9384, or Sandra Bolton at (503) 223-3790.