Sunday, September 13, 2009
Homelessness and safety: The story of Dignity Village
Can we have safe and vital cities without tackling homelessness? For some, perhaps. Others, no.
Homelessness plagues Houston, Louisville, Seattle, Los Angeles, Vancouver and so many other recession-prone places. The re-emergence of large tent cities is a foreboding sign. Homeless folk dwell underneath the cement highway bridges we cross everyday to work, hundreds and thousands of people living out their lives.
Then along comes a story that brings hope for a new way forward.
Enter: Dignity Village in Portland, part of the City Repair movement. The New York Times says "Dignity Village is no sqatter's camp". The UK Guardian newspaper claims "America's homeless become new small-town pioneers".
A few years ago some Portland activists convinced homeless tent dwellers to move to a better spot, taught them how to use recycled material to construct shelters, and helped them do exactly that. They planned a village with a garden, "community center", and art. They gradually began to work together to build a self-governing community with rules, basic sanitation, and a measure of safety. In spite of a turbulent sea of local controversy somehow they found an island of, well, dignity.
Sometimes it is the simple solutions that work best.