The new site, near the new Tilikum Crossing Bridge, could resolve years of uncertainty over the camp’s future.
Currently, the Right 2 Dream Too camp sits next to the red-and-gold gate at the entrance to Portland’s Chinatown. Five years ago, an adult bookstore owner who had feuded with the city invited Right 2 Dream Too to pitch their tents on his property.
The homeless camp is sheltered by a wall made of painted wooden doors. Everyone who enters has to check in at the security desk.
“Before we let people in, we have them read this code of conduct,” said Ibrahim Mubarak, a homeless activist who founded Right 2 Dream Too. “Some of the most important rules are we are a weapon free zone; we are a drug free zone. And those are the most important things. And respecting each other.”
Those rules are similar to what most homeless shelters in Portland require. But in many other ways, Right To Dream Too is atypical. Inside, the camp looks like an adult version of a childhood fort.
The floors are built out of pallets. The walls and roof are built from blue tarps and old lumber. There are three main communal sleeping areas: one for men, one for women and one for couples.
A few dozen men are stretched out on the floor, snoring quietly. Nearby Mubarak points out a stack of fresh sleeping bags.
“This here is our biggest expense. Keeping over 200 sleeping bags clean. We wash them two to three times a week,” Mubarak says.
The camp smells a little like mildew. But it’s also tidy, organized and dry. And unlike Portland’s other shelters, which don’t allow people to stay during the day, Right To Dream Too allows people to show up any time and sleep for up to twelve hours.
Mike Summers says he feels safe here.
“I’m not trying to sleep with one eye open and one eye closed, making sure that I’m not assaulted and my girlfriend’s not assaulted,” Summers says.
Summers says he quit his job to take care of his mother and has been unemployed and homeless since she died.
“I think there’s more of these that need to be built. It’s not a long term solution; it’s a temporary thing until the city gets more housing built up,” he says.
Here’s where Right 2 Dream Too gets complicated. In addition to the short-term visitors who stay for up to 12 hours, there’s also a group of longer term residents, called members. The members essentially run the camp.
They keep it clean and do at least an hour of chores a week.
In exchange, they get to sleep in their own tents in the back. And have access to a small kitchen.
Inside, Marty Monahan is cooking his breakfast in a George Foreman Grill.
“I’m making yummy hashbrowns. They’re to die for. That’s Crisco,” he says.
Monahan does not fit the stereotype of a homeless person. He is clean-shaven, cleanly dressed and handsome. He works in an Italian restaurant. But he says the wage he earns isn’t enough.
“I’m making $12. And even at $12 an hour — that’s not cutting it,” Monahan says. Even with his income, he’s struggled to get off the street. He’s been living at Right 2 Dream Too for four years. He hasn’t found a place that will rent to him, and he hasn’t qualified for subsidized housing.
“I tried to get housing, and a waiting list would be four to five years for someone like me,” he says.
Monahan admits that spending time indoors is hard for him now.
“After four years, you start getting claustrophobia when you go inside. So I’ll go over to my friend’s. You have to have the windows open, and the doors open. Otherwise you can’t breathe,” he says.
But Monahan does have an exit strategy. He’s bought an RV, and he’s paying to have it fixed up. Long-term residents like Monahan are part of what makes Right 2 Dream Too controversial.
Some argue that the camp is really short-term housing, and not just a rest area. Critics say it’s just not an appropriate place to have people living for months or even years at a time. Mubarak, the camp’s founder, stresses that his goal is to have the members find permanent housing.
He points out an open space in the middle of the camp and says several tents were recently taken down: “Four people got housed last month. And that’s good. That brings our total to 295 people.”
The camp’s members have mixed feelings about the proposed move across the river. On the one hand, they’ll be farther away from the social services downtown. On the other hand, the new camp will have showers, bathrooms and a laundry area.
That, they said, will be a blessing.