But faced with surprising resilience from the members of Dignity Village, last Thursday City Council voted 4-1 to work with residents towards a common goal. The plan would create a pilot project allowing the tent community to lease a parcel of land for a year in exchange for litter removal and other in-kind services. On the surface, the deal appeared to be a win-win for both parties, but there was one catch: The city offered no permanent site, and instead, provided a sub-standard asphalt parking lot where the homeless could stay for the next 60 days.
The council proposed that Dignity Village relocate to Sunderland Yard, a remote Northeast site neighboring the Columbia River Correctional Institute, PDX runways and, ironically, two country clubs. Facing imminent confrontation with police if they stayed at the Northwest location, the residents initially (and reluctantly) agreed.
Last weekend, however, some residents traveled to Sunderland Yard and reported back that the site is a "concentration camp"--an asphalt lot portioned off with a chain-link and barbed wire fence.
"It is two miles from the nearest grocery outlet, which is a convenience store," said Orion Gray, a spokesperson for Dignity Village. "And forty minutes by bus from the downtown jobs, schools, and social services most villagers still depend on." Additionally troublesome to the residents is that there is no pay phone nearby in case of emergency. There is also the obvious fact it's difficult to pitch a tent in asphalt. Also, adding bus fare to a villager's small or non-existent budget is ludicrous. One villager lamented, "It's setting us up for failure."
At press time, the homeless have dug in their heels, refusing to budge. Currently, they are awaiting the city's next move, whether it's forcible eviction by the police or proposals for alternate sites.
Holding Their Ground
Dignity Villlage Digs In Its Heels by Karrin Ellertson