[Hpn] PORTLAND, Or - Homeless town a model - The Washington Times - December 09, 2003

HC Covington HC Covington" <hcc@icanamerica.org
Wed, 10 Dec 2003 03:00:01 -0500

Homeless town a model

By Staff Writers - The Washington Times - December 09, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — On a one-acre patch of asphalt near
the airport, about 80 homeless people are living in shelters
slapped together out of scavenged planks, plastic, sheetrock
and cardboard.

But this is no ordinary shantytown. Dignity Village, as it
is called, is an unusual social experiment: a government
sanctioned encampment for the homeless.

Besides holding a city lease, it has its own government,
maintains a Web site and operates as a nonprofit corporation.

Residents get free legal advice from local lawyers, medical
aid from a homeless shelter, and financial support from a
national network of charitable donors.

"There really isn't another model in the country that is as
well-organized as Dignity Village," said Donald Whitehead,
executive director of the National Coalition for the
Homeless in Washington, D.C. "It's pretty revolutionary."

Two years after it was built, though, Dignity Village has
reached a crossroads. The most recent lease having expired
at the end of October, residents have asked the city to
extend their stay for up to 10 years.

They have also requested that the city stop charging rent
for the site and make thousands of dollars in improvements
at the location.

The request has set off a debate among city officials over
whether to sink money into the project or put an end to the
whole experiment and encourage homeless people to go to
shelters instead. Some officials say that shelters do a
better job of providing health and job services.

"Before the city invests more money into Dignity Village, we
should know that there are actual people that have been
helped," said Michael Harrison, aide to Jim Francesconi, one
of four city commissioners.

Dignity Village's leaders argue they have already shown they
are helping the homeless.

Benjamin Howard, a homeless man who serves as Dignity
Village's fire chief, said it is a place where people can
develop a sense of stability, start looking for work, and
then move into low-income housing. About 200 have taken that
step in the past two years, he said.

Portland has an estimated 2,000 homeless people, and 20
homeless shelters run by the city and private organizations.
Homeless people set up the encampment in September 2001 and
won permission from the City Council.

Dignity Village pays the city more than $20,000 a year for
rent, water and garbage pickup, with most of the money
coming from donations. It has rudimentary utilities,
including portable toilets and electricity provided by a

"It's a good resource that's helped a lot of vulnerable and
lost people get back on their feet," said City Commissioner
Erik Sten.

But he said a 10-year extension may be too long and the city
should not pick up all the costs the residents have
requested for safety and sewage improvements.

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