"Anti-celebrities," assures Dog Dave. Although the camp has received glowing national and international press, at home they remain controversial. Technically, they are trespassing on city property. Three-and-a-half years ago, a dozen or so homeless men and women rolled their shopping carts underneath the west end of the Fremont Bridge and claimed the turf as "Dignity Village." City hall tried to evict the campers, but found the group to be particularly stubborn, resourceful, and, above all, polite and willing to negotiate. After several months, the city worked out a deal: For eight months they could occupy an asphalt lot near the airport while everyone tried to find a more permanent and appropriate location.
Those months came and went. City hall told them to move, but they refused and worked out another temporary lease. Again the lease came and went, and Dignity Village remained. And last Thursday, the first day of October, their most recent, one-year temporary easement expired. But, just at it did last year, the deadline for the homeless men and women to pull up stakes has come and gone, and no one has left.
It's not that they don't want to leave, says Dog Dave. "This is just a stepping stone," he says, "like a temporary shanty town." They hope to purchase a patch of land and establish a permanent, environmentally friendly camp. Besides not being theirs, the current site, says Dog Dave, has fundamental shortcomings; it's far from town and, during the rainy season, the lot floods.
"Even if the city wasn't pressuring us, we have internal pressure [to move]," he insists. "This isn't what we're going for."
During the two-year occupation, city council has proven surprisingly patient, in spite of a frustrating catch-22. They want to encourage the camp's self-reliance and ingenuity, but at the same time they can't advocate the renegade use of city property.
When Randy Leonard visited the camp a few weeks ago, the former union president of Portland firefighters remarked about potential fire traps, but also said he said he was impressed by the residents and their attempt at setting up semi-permanent housing for otherwise homeless people. Only mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi has voiced any real resistance to the camp.
"I think we're all on the same page," says Dog Dave.
At press time, no residents at Dignity Village were planning to leave. And so an impasse has been reached--again.