Dignity Village started in 2001 as an illegal encampment underneath Portland’s bridges. For months, the very visible challenge to the city’s anti-camping ordinance garnered both support and opposition. The camping law didn’t change, but the city did sit down with representatives of the encampment in order to negotiate an agreement everyone could live with. That is how Dignity Village landed in the spot where it’s been for the past eight years: an asphalt lot at the end of the #10 bus line in Northeast Portland, on land used primarily for the city’s leaf composting operation. Instead of tents, the village now houses up to 60 residents in 10x10 foot structures built out of mostly salvaged materials.
The city’s main concern has always been that the village be transitional housing as opposed to a permanent home. Dignity Village is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit with its own internal governing body called the council. According to the current council chair, village resident Randy Curl, people stay in the village for about 18 months on average, though some have been there for years and some get kicked out after only a few days if they don’t follow the basic rules:
No violence toward yourself or others.
No illegal substances or alcohol or paraphernalia on the premises or within a one-block radius.
Everyone contributes to the upkeep and welfare of the village and works to become a productive member of the community.
No disruptive behavior of any kind that disturbs the general peace and welfare of the village.
Tent cities have cropped up in other places around the country, from Sacremento to St. Petersburg. Olympia and Seattle have both sanctioned tent cities (with the requirement that they move to new locations every few months) and Puyallup is still considering an ordinance that would allow a similar encampment there.
The next installment of our No Place to Call Home series takes us to Dignity Village.
Have you lived in a tent city? What was it like? Do you remember when Dignity Village was under the bridges? What did you think about it then? Have your thoughts and feelings changed?
Editor’s Note: this show was pre-recorded last week at Dignity Village so we will not be taking calls during the program. Of course the conversation will continue online.
- Randy Curl: Dignity Village resident and council chairman
- Sally Erickson: Manager of the Ending Homelessness Initiative for the City of Portland
- Tim McCarthy: Former Dignity Village resident who now owns his own home in Newberg