It is the day after Christmas and Dignity Village is on the move again. With two news stations and a group of supporters as chaperones, we are the most famous roaming band of bums in Portland. No disrespect meant to our less media-friendly homeless brethren, but this brings with it an enormous responsibility.
I have been homeless for three years, and this is the first time I have seen homeless people rise up and work together to fight the oppression we face on a daily basis. Now we are faced with inevitable personality conflicts, police intervention and even alcoholic neighbors.
As our parade of tents and shopping carts makes it's way across the Burnside Bridge, I can't help but be reminded of the Gypsys in Europe. Labeled theives and worthless humans by the more priveledged members of society, they were forced into a lifestyle of continuous travel to avoid persecution. Despite ill treatment, their culture thrived and elements of it are still present today.
Like the Gypsys, we have banded together for survival purposes. To be homeless and alone is to see the world as an eternally viscious circle. It is freeing to me to have a place to leave my bedding during the day so I don't have to carry it into every store and building. To have a group committed to the protection of my basic human needs is a blessing I know I am not alone in welcoming.
So many of my homeless friends are not helped by the mission and all of the other city services because there is simply too much of a demand. With five hundred beds available and six thousand homeless, is it a surprise we have taken on this task ourselves? With no little credit due to our devoted team of supporters, and even the police, who have observed from a respectful distance--I am constantly amazed at the positive reactions we receive from other homeless people, the media and each other. But I can only pray that this is evidence of a permanent location for our community. So far, nothing has stood in our way. Still, I suspect this may be a long battle.
The September ruling by Judge Stephen Gallagher declared an anti-camping ordinance "cruel and unusual punishment," yet a few weeks later, a friend of mine sleeping in the doorway of a church was woken up by being pepper sprayed and taken to jail. This kind of occurance is more run of the mill than most people realize. I hope that Dignity Village will bring about a visisbility for homeless people and the problems that we face.
Our current site is in full view of a major road and several office buildings. The presence of tax paying supporters and a knowledgable legal team has given us a kind of luxury other campers do not have. Any other homeless person would have been asked to leave, swept under the rug like somebody's garbage.
President John Kennedy said "If America cannot solve the problems of the many who are poor, it cannot hope to solve the problems of the few who are rich." Well put. I see the fight for homeless rights as a fight for all human rights. Every person is a valuable person. People are being arrested for sleeping and for relieving themselves in public.
Where else are they to go? Where is our basic human dignity? These people are real people, who have thoughts and emotions just like you and I. When will we all wake-up and find a solution to this problem?