Dignity Village – A Success Story

One of my regular readers, Malcolm, reminded me tonight about a tiny house village in Oregon that was established by a group of homeless folks through successful acts of civil disobedience. The city of Portland now accepts the existence of Dignity Village as a self-regulating, city-recognized “campground”. The Portland City Council has guaranteed the community’s existence through at least 2010 (source). The tiny homes are often built from salvaged building materials by the occupants themselves.

Dignity Village cabin

There is much written about the origins and governance of this community on wikipedia and the Dignity Village website but I wanted to point out two very important aspects of communities like this that may go unnoticed.

Empowerment is powerful stuff – The first is that by allowing people the freedom and space to find solutions to their own problems their spirits are reinvigorated amplifying a sense of hope and pride in each individual. This opportunity of empowerment in itself can wipe away the biggest road blocks and allow people to rise up and take back their lives. Often all society needs to do is get out of the way.

Better for everyone – The second is that communities like these can be successfully self-governed, safe, and even a valuable additions to the community. It’s also arguable that villages like this could help people get back on their feet faster simply because it’s easier to succeed in a safe and nurturing environment.

To learn more about this village in Oregon visit the Dignity Village website. Photo credit wikipedia and Google Maps. Thanks again for the tip Malcolm!

Dignity Village arial view

Above: A screen shot from Google Maps showing the actual layout of Dignity Village just outside Portland, Oregon.

Below: Two more photos of the tiny homes you’ll see at Dignity Village.

Dignity Village street

Dignity Village home

9 thoughts on “Dignity Village – A Success Story

  1. Chrystal Ocean says:

    The empowerment factor is crucial. No solution will work unless the target population itself is not just ‘consulted’ but meaningfully included in ALL decision-making. Any non-profits whose mandate is to address homelessness, more than half board members should be homeless or of households whose income is in the lowest decile category.

    As someone who qualifies by the above criteria, I’ve been hammering away on my blog about this issue for years. No one wants to listen, least of all officials of local governments. Their by-laws effectively support NIMBYism, effectively entrench the notion that residents already housed, i.e. property owners, have the right to exclude anyone else who is not housed; i.e., non-property owners.

    If a lot or other land has stood vacant for years, then squatting by street people should be a legal right, tent cities should NOT be bulldozed and serviced parking areas (for the wheeled homeless in vehicles of all kinds) should be standard in all communities.

    Squatters should be acknowledged to have as much right to life as anyone else, thus the right to the means to sustain that life.

    Re Dignity Village… a link to it has been on my blog’s Favourite Links & Resources section from its creation. If only more communities would pay attention, see that solutions such as Dignity Village WORK. They work because they come from the target population itself, from the people who know better than anyone else what their needs are, from people who want to provide FOR THEMSELVES, not to be forever the targets of the well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided.

  2. SteveR says:

    Now these are houses built with soul, character, love and respect. Buildings built by the people, FOR the people.

    If we could ever get true democracy, the world would truly be an awesome place.

    I can’t agree entirely with Chrystal Ocean however, about squatter’s rights. It’s not so black and white. It too should be a consultative process. Maybe the land owner is ok with it, maybe not.

    In my case I have had land for decades apparently ‘standing vacant’ but in fact parts of it is regenerating native vegetation which takes a long time by human standards. I wouldn’t be too happy if someone starting living on my land just because it seemed like I wasn’t using it for anything without consulting me first.

  3. Gae Seal says:

    My grandmother’s father built a solar house in Los Angeles when he arrived from New York in 1906. He started a nursery and planted the palm trees now gracing the streets of Beverly Hills. His obit in the Los Angeles newspaper read, “Beloved Pioneer…”

  4. Alain Bally says:

    While I applaud the ethos behind Dignity Village, lets be clear this is an internment/refugee camp located next to a corrections facility and what’s basically a quarry. The city moved folks out here with the unspoken intention of breaking up a community of squatters that was causing problems downtown. The residents live 100 s.f. shanties that meet code for campgrounds. Dignity Village is an anti-Potemkin Village that government and social service agencies can point to when they tout their “help the homeless” cred. I’m not sure we do the residents a favor when we celebrate the dignity of living in a packing crate. We can do better and they deserve better.

    • Jack says:

      Alain…you have obviously not been to any other city to see what an improvement Dignity Village is!

      Kudos PDX!

      I can’t wait to come to Oregon over the 4th of July to see how we can implement this in Charleston, SC.

  5. rtdnan says:

    I applaude the idea of allowing people to create their own shantytowns and Hooverville-like communities. No one should be forced to live on the sidewalk or in a vehicle, especially not women and children! I feel sick to my stomache ever time i think about the hundred thousand plus kids in this country who have no place to sleep except in the family car. Let these families build shacks, for god’s sake. Everyone needs to sleep laying down, not sleep sitting. And for those of you who say we simply need more shelters – you go live in one then!!! Shelters are NOT the answer to homelessness. Shelters are Depressing as Hell. That’s why only 1% of shelter dwellers ever get a job or climb out of homelessness.

  6. Frank Genetti says:

    I would like to arrange a visit of your village
    during my trip to Portland over the Thanksgiving holidays, the Friday after Thanksgiving. We are looking into
    a similar village here in Coeur d’ Alene Idaho.

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