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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Field Trip to Dignity Village

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 1:02 PM

It's miserable rainy days like today that make me appreciate having a roof over my head. Two weekends ago, I stopped by Dignity Village, to see how the homeless camp was faring in the cold (last I'd heard, they were fighting for a waiver for $22,600 toilet permits) and also to check out the strange "Dignity Village Holiday Bazaar!" I'd heard about from a friend of a friend.

The bazaar turned out to be sort of like the contents of a freebox poured over three tables in Dignity Village's community room. I was hard pressed to find anything to buy amidst the piles of naked Barbie dolls and holiday schlock, eventually settling on a pair of Mason jars and a straight-up $5 donation. But the company was great: several Dignity citizens milled around, talking and munching on cookies and a guy with long hair and a nametag reading "Teriyaki King" offered to give me a tour of the camp.

The Teriyaki King talked about one major change the Village has undergone thanks to the recession: for the first time ever, the homeless camp is charging rent. The costs of propane and port-a-potties on Dignity's site between the airport and a jail totals about $4,000 a month, which the residents have partially covered since last spring with a $20-per-person rent fee that makes up for private donations lost in the economic crash.

The Dignity residents also run a food cart on SE Spokane now and house about 60 people in semi-permanent homes on their site—a far cry from their old days squatting as a downtown tent city.

Ever wonder where all those leaves wind up that the city swept off the street this fall? The Teriyaki King surveys the citys massive mulch pile next to Dignity Village.
  • Ever wonder where all those leaves wind up that the city swept off the street this fall? The Teriyaki King surveys the city's massive mulch pile next to Dignity Village.

It's tough for some of the residents to make rent. Those few who have steady work are fine, but some residents panhandle to raise the $20. In addition to the cash, residents have to donate a few hours a month of labor to the site, either painting, giving tours or helping do jobs like tend the site's many small gardens.

Donations are scattered around Dignity Villages entrance. An old sculptor donated the forms for making these plaster cowboys.
  • Donations are scattered around Dignity Village's entrance. An old sculptor donated the forms for making these plaster cowboys.

Local artists graced the side of this house with a mural. Opinion on its artistic merits are still divided in the Village. Its nice, but I wouldnt want it on the side of MY house, says the Teriyaki King.
  • Local artists graced the side of this house with a mural. Opinion on its artistic merits are still divided in the Village. "It's nice, but I wouldn't want it on the side of MY house," says the Teriyaki King.

Houses have to be low enough to fit under a bridge, so they can be moved at any time. But that didnt stop one man from constructing his own castle.
  • Houses have to be low enough to fit under a bridge, so they can be moved at any time. But that didn't stop one man from constructing his own castle.

Despite the new rent rule, winter seems to be going alright at the Village. Propane tanks provide hot showers and, hey, no burst pipes yet. Donate here.

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