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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
CNN ran a similar story at the end of September. I found it really interesting. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/09/29/washington.homeless.camp/index.html
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…”