During its brief 10-month life, Dignity Village has made steady progress towards realizing the "sustainable green urban village" of its dreams, and performed important work of real value to the Portland community along the way. But now it is facing another hearing before City Council on October 24, and another forced move on October 31 from its current location at the city-owned Sunderland Composting Yard.
Dignity Village is a self-governed community of about 60 formerly homeless people. The village has coordinated its efforts with city housing officials and social service organizations to add real value to the publicly funded "Continuum of Care" (services). These efforts have housed more than 70 former residents, and safely sheltered over 600 temporary guests for short periods, at little or no cost to public coffers. At the same time, the village has also been developing their own by-laws and articles of incorporation, working on the job market, maintaining their own trash and sanitation system, and managed to start a micro-enterprise called DigsVille Farm by the sweat of their brows. Not bad, especially for a bunch of formerly homeless people.
The Portland City Council agreed, and by a 4-1 margin, voted to designate Dignity Village as an official city "pilot project" on August 30. Now, 6 weeks later, despite the village's positive track record, impressive list of achievements and becoming a sanctioned "pilot project" of the city, one pivotal issue remains: land (30,000 square feet of it for the winter). The village needs a 5-6 month lease or host arrangement (with a private land owner, municipality, university, non-profit, business or church) to occupy a suitable parcel for the winter. All the village needs is one property owner, in one neighborhood, to host it for the winter.
To its credit, the city did agree (along with its designation) to host Dignity for 60-days in the corner of the city-owned Sunderland Composting Yard. But the sixty days is up October 31. The city says that major extensions are out of the question, as the yard fills up with leaves by mid-November. The City Council has scheduled another session on October 24 to "evaluate Dignity Village's progress" towards complying with city requirements. One of the requirements reads, "Procure a lawful site for the Dignity Village pilot project".
Dignity Village's Site Committee -- including professional land use specialists, neighborhood advisors, representatives from the city and the religious community, architects, and financial backers -- has been working for weeks to find a new site by Oct. 31. Sadly, most of the Site Committee's many inquiries into both public and private land deals have been met with a mixture of polite refusals, unreturned phone calls or back-peddling on otherwise available land, once the connection with Dignity Village was made clear. Not a very pretty picture. But Dignity is undaunted....Dignity friends and supporters are hereby authorized to "pull out all the stops" to help with "spotting land", or even making contacts to land owners to help get the village sited for the winter. If anyone knows of a possible site, please contact us with the information!
Please act now! The Site Committee must locate an accommodating land-owner, and organize quickly within the neighborhood where the parcel is located, to educate decision makers and neighbors about the significant benefits that the village brings to a neighborhood, including neighborhood litter patrols, landscaping maintenance, security patrols, and other in-kind services to the area. All it will take is one land owner in one neighborhood, one that is visionary and courageous enough to embrace the value and importance of hosting Dignity Village for the winter. Please act now, as time is running out.