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May 9th, 2007 Julie Sabatier | News Stories
 

The village people

Portland’s homeless camp may be spawning imitators.

     
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IMAGE: cameronbrowne.com
After six years as the country’s only government-sanctioned tent city, Portland’s Dignity Village encampment has admirers wanting to clone it.
When a tent city recently arose 114 miles up I-5 in downtown Olympia, Wash., some homeless-advocates there looked to the homeless camp at the Sunderland Recycling Facility in Northeast Portland for inspiration.
Olympia’s Camp Quixote has 30 residents on Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation property. And organizers want the city and surrounding Thurston County to provide a more permanent location.
Dignity Village residents have visited Camp Quixote to offer advice and support. And last week, a delegation from Thurston County and its cities traveled south for a visit to Dignity Village, as well as a meeting with Portland city officials.
But the parallels between Dignity Village and Camp Quixote, officials said afterward, may not be exact enough for cloning.
“It’s a very unique situation. I don’t know how replicable it is to other communities,” said Lacey City Council member Mary Dean. “You seem to have had a perfect alignment of stars.”
Dean and Olympia City Council member Jeff Kingsbury observed that one of Dignity Village’s unique assets is its location far from Portland’s downtown. That may not be possible in a small city such as Olympia because the 45,500-person city sits at the center of densely populated Thurston County.
And while Washington officials see Portland’s out-of-sight location as a plus, longtime Dignity Village resident Gaye Reyes said the camp would rather be closer to the city center.
Kingsbury also cited another key difference, saying that homeless people prompted Dignity Village and are responsible for running it. By contrast, Kingsbury says, the activists behind Camp Quixote aren’t homeless.
Rob Richards, an advocate with the Bread and Roses nonprofit, helped get Camp Quixote off the ground in February. But now he says it’s very much run by the people who live there. “They use direct democracy to make decisions,’’ said Richards, who isn’t homeless. “They have rules in place and they enforce those by consensus.”
Though Dignity Village residents are eager for the opportunity to export their transitional housing model, Portland city officials were lukewarm.
“Dignity Village emerged out of a perfect storm of events,” said Andy Miller of Portland’s Bureau of Housing and Community Development. “I don’t know how often that sort of perfect storm can be replicated.”
Meanwhile, Dignity Village Council Chair Sue Parker and City Commissioner Sam Adams are expected to sign a formal lease next month that will ensure space on city land through 2010. The village will be responsible for its utilities, but will not pay rent to the city. Villagers will also be required to report regularly on residents’ progress.
Camp Quixote’s agreement in Olympia with the Unitarian church expires May 19 and Richards says it may move to the woods temporarily before relocating to another church property or land owned by the Evergreen State College.
 
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