Dignity Village - Nonviolent Warriors for Homeland Peace & Justice

by John Hubbird

Over a year ago, based on an anonymous 'tip' from a disgruntled and deranged village resident, Dignity Village was quietly investigated by Portland's Anti-Terror Task Force on suspicion of harboring terrorists with mortars and hand-grenades stashed in their tents. Of course, they found nothing.

This illustrates how Bush's global war against the poorer countries abroad can get quietly played out in bizarre and frightening ways on the domestic front -- as a quiet domestic war against anyone who doesn't appear to 'fit' a prosperous patriotic profile. Despite such harassment, and despite the daily harangues slandering the village by Lars Larson's talk show, the village has continued to thrive, and to steadily achieve its goals related to providing a green user-friendly place for homeless people to reclaim their dignity and rebuild their lives.

Here are some things about the Village that its detractors always appear to be adamantly obtuse about:

  1. Despite Oregon's extremely high unemployment rate, many villagers (about 1/3) are employed or developing their own micro-business, but these are generally minimum wage jobs that still don't pay enough wages to afford the high rents demanded by real estate barons.

  2. Many others attend GED, college or trade schools to attempt to better themselves to earn enough to be able to pay the high rents and move out of the village.

  3. Those not yet employed or attending school are a) looking for work, b) developing legitimate micro-businesses, or c) are functioning as defacto unpaid 'staff' to maintain the facility, govern themselves internally and run their 501c3 corporation. This is just one of many reasons Dignity Village is such a great asset for the city. It's so much much cheaper than conventional shelters.

  4. To assist people in transitioning to housing, the village provides hot showers, computer use, phone use, shelter, common gathering places that are warm and mutual support for one another to survive their ordeal emotionally.

  5. Hundreds of homeless have already cycled through the village, become employed and housed -- many through a housing placement service called JOIN that transitions people directly from homelessness into housing.

It's important to understand that, in Portland, there are at least (by most recent head count) 1600 homeless people every night who 'don't fit' into the current shelter system or other services due to long waiting lists and services being cut due to state budget crisis, and Bush's federal programs being slashed in order to pay for huge tax cuts for the very rich. There is simply nowhere for these 1600 human beings to go at night. Unless they're lucky enough to get a mat on a shelter floor that night, they have the 'unlucky' experience of being criminalized for their extreme poverty. They are subject to getting $300 tickets for simply sleeping, sitting, etc. in a public place. To the credit of some Portland police officers, rather than issuing a citation, they will instead opt for bringing homeless people to the village -- apparently understanding the gross injustice of making poverty a crime. Maybe they understand too that it is WAY more expensive to pay the FBI and local police to harass, jail and imprison homeless people, than it is to simply house them.

Criminalizing the homeless ought to be morally repugnant to anyone who cares about basic human rights and civil liberties. Using the law to punish the poor for their poverty only pushes a homeless person further away from successfully reintegrating into the larger community, which works against the very thing that people like Lars Larsson and the Oregonian editorial board say they want homeless people to do ...'just get a job'.

May Dignity Village continue to confound its nay-sayers by demonstrating the power of community, ingenuity and compassion to transform our world into a more peaceful and livable place. Viva Dignity!

John Hubbird
John is a writer, community-based development specialist, and community organizer who has worked with Dignity Village since its inception