Portland Homeless Village Legalized

February 27, 2004

Filed at 5:53 a.m. ET

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A one-acre tent city established by Portland's homeless has won the right to be called a campground, a designation that finally makes it legal.

The 60 residents of the area, called Dignity Village, have battled for four years to gain legal recognition for their encampment of tents, scavenged planks and cardboard boxes, all of which violate the city's zoning codes if defined as housing.

The campground status, which four of five city officials voted for Thursday, gives them the right to stay in their self-regulated tent city.

``Usually, when I became homeless, I went into the woods,'' said the village's treasurer, Tim McCarthy. ``I was all alone -- this was the first chance I had to be around other people in the same situation.''

Critics of the tent city argued that the focus should instead be on creating affordable housing, but supporters say that solution would take years to implement.

Dignity Village was founded by eight homeless men and women who decided to pitch five tents on public land, saying they had nowhere else to go. Waiting lists for shelter beds, a recently released study said, is as long as 12 weeks.

The encampment has grown to include its own village council, elected officers, a Web site and nonprofit status.

Other cities try to discourage large-scale encampments of homeless people. In October, Seattle cracked down on a homeless camp in the woods. In Anchorage, Alaska, authorities cleared out about 50 sites in May because of the danger posed by campfires.