THE RESIDENTS of Dignity Village don't seem to be bothered by the constant rumble of air traffic overhead or the community's far-flung location next to the Portland Airport. But Randy Curl, elected chairman of the village, says there's something missing.
"Toilets that go 'woosh,'" he says, gesturing to the two portable johns up against the community building. Renting the toilets costs $250 a week, and village residents are planning to build a permanent bathroom as part of other improvements. But building more permanent facilities hit a snag when the city declined to waive $22,600 in permit fees recently. Tom Erickson, a Vancouver contractor and volunteer for Dignity Village, is appealing to Mayor Sam Adams and the city council to either reduce the fees or waive them entirely.
Erickson says the city isn't acting in bad faith. Instead, city hall can't justify waiving fees while laying off city workers—the Bureau of Development Services, which looks after permitting, went from 301 employees in July to 148 last Thursday, October 1, in the latest round of cuts. Erickson understands the dilemma.
"You work for the city because you don't ever think you'll be laid off," Erickson says.
Dignity Village is home to 58 of Portland's homeless, living in small sheds and shacks while looking for work or working toward moving out of the village. All the residents serve the community in some way, acting as security guards, construction workers, or whatever is needed. Residents elect leaders, like Curl, annually.
Erickson says Hank McDonald, a building inspector with the city who has helped Dignity Village get fees waived in the past, told him it was politically impossible to let $22,600 slide while so many city workers have been let go in the past few months. Repeated calls to McDonald's office were not returned.
Still, Erickson doesn't want to leave the impression that he's angry with anyone at the city. "If there was an SOB, I'd tell you," Erickson says. "It's just that the economy is so bad."