Sporting his trademark blond dreadlocks and quiet air of resolved authority, Jack Tafari swept into the room at Berbati's last Sunday. The spokesperson and ad hoc mayor for Dignity Village, Tafari was at Berbati's for a streetroots benefit concert and a screening of a documentary film being made about the homeless camp located along the northeast fringe of town.
A year and a half ago, City Hall threatened to bust up the camp, which at that time had settled onto a lot under the Fremont Bridge. Instead, in a last-minute negotiation, the 60 or so homeless men and women were moved to a city-sanctioned location at Sunderland Yard, a remote asphalt lot near the airport.
Since then, out of sight from commuters and residents in northwest Portland, the semi-permanent camp has largely disappeared from the media's radar screen. But in spite of their low public profile, they are still experiencing major growing pains.
Filming the camp and its members for the last two years, a local company has captured much of its drama and evolution. The trailer for the upcoming documentary--shown at Sunday's event--reveals the good, bad, and the ugly of the camp (while providing a decidedly sympathetic angle).
Yet, even as the film's production is wrapping up, which way the storyline will go remains uncertain. Rumors of a revived Homeless Liberation Front (HLF)--the original name chosen by the camp's founding fathers--have been circulating in the village. More than a name, re-adopting HLF would mean re-calibrating the purpose and verve of the camp.
Travis Dandy, who only recently settled into Dignity Village, has called for a return to the original revolutionary ideals, which includes challenging the city's camping ban, recruiting young anarchists to join the camp, and lifting the population cap that the city has set at 60 persons.
Outside sources say the leaders' vision for the village has always been divided between radical political ideologies and a program designed to help people move up and on with their lives.
"People feel like it's a free squat," Dandy says. "But once we started talking about reviving the revolutionary ideals we got a good reception."
City officials note that the village hasn't sent them any paperwork asking to appeal the population cap. Other sources involved with the camp think the more radical ideologies only exist on the fringes.
"The biggest concern is still finding a permanent site [for Dignity Village]," said one homeless advocate. The village estimates they still need $500,000 to purchase their own patch of land.