October 22nd found the officers and outreach committee of Dignity Village making the rounds of City Hall passing out copies of their new proposal for the current Sunderland Yard location. The 53 page proposal requests that the City provide a ten year lease to the Village at the current location with an option to end the lease when a permanent site is found. A longer lease will give Dignity Village the time and security required to transform into a full fledged eco-village with an improved physical environment while continuing its mission of supporting homeless people transitioning from the streets into stable housing.
The proposal does not significantly alter current services provided by the Village to the homeless community and to the City as a whole. Approaching its third anniversary, the self governed non-profit village has room for 60 people and has successfully helped many hundreds of homeless people by providing stable housing, community, cooking facilities, a mailing address, a telephone number, internet access, and showers. Other advantages over the shelter system include the fact that partners are able to stay together and pets are allowed to live with their owners. At this point, the Village has mostly transitioned out of tents and into reasonably weatherproof structures made out of recycled building materials.
The proposal calls for upgrading the Village with modular ecologically friendly structures which can later be moved to a permanent site once one is located. It calls for conventionally framed structures built out of recycled building materials using light straw clay insulation and plaster. Most structures will have living roofs and rainwater catchment systems with water channeled to the planned common laundry and village gardens. Existing wind power will be expanded and solar panels will be employed for electrical generation and hot water.
Integral to the proposal is the concept of place making. Free of the typical grid pattern of urban America, Dignity Village has a real opportunity at Sunderland Yard to maximize the use of urban planning concepts to inspire and uplift residents and visitors. Features such as an urban heart, or village center which accommodates daily life and events combine well with the planned weave of paths and nodes which will serve as connection points where the lives of villagers will converge. The Village will be dotted with gateways to mark openings, passages and transitions into, out of and within the Village as well as memorials and cultural features such as art created by the villagers. These features will establish a strong sense of local identity reflective and supportive of Village inhabitants.
The proposal also calls for more work to be done to address fire safety concerns raised by former fire chief and current city council member Randy Leonard during a recent visit to Dignity Village. Furthermore, the document contains steps to bring the Village into compliance with applicable "transitional housing campground" code as designated by state law.
Sometime soon the City Council will enter negotiations with the Village over the proposal. Please call, write or email the City Council with your opinions of Dignity Village during this crucial time. The proposal can be viewed on Dignity Village's website at http://outofthedoorways.org.
Momentum continues to build at Dignity Village with its continuing efforts to expand its services. Members of the general homeless community are invited to the Village for twice-monthly medical clinics sponsored by Outside In, and Portland Animal Welfare Team's recently inaugurated veterinary clinics. The past two months has seen 35 people transition through the Village and others join the Village to take the place of those who have transitioned on to permanent housing. Smoke detectors have been installed in every structure and residents are gearing up for winter. Grant writing is currently underway for monthly operational costs to supplement private donations and fundraising. A documentary film about the Village and a media-based outreach toolkit are currently under development (www.kwamba.com/dignityvillage). Recently a delegate from the Nagai Park tent city in Osaka, Japan, visited the Village on a tour of the west coast. Also, Dignity Village has recently garnered positive media coverage in the UK's Guardian newspaper, Italy's L'espresso, and the New York Times and television networks from France and Italy have filmed and/or expressed interest in filming for programs that will air soon in Europe.