Olympia’s Poor Peoples Union begins replicating Dignity

Looks like Olympia, Washington’s Poor Peoples Union (PPU) beat London’s Homeless Front UK (HFUK) to the punch in their effort to replicate and adapt the Dignity model.

Here’s the front page story from Sunday’s Olympian followed by the PPU’s Declaration of Victory.

HFUK is delighted, of course, by the victory of our brothers and sisters in Olympia, Washington. We wish them many more victories along the way to building the green, sustainable, urban village that will improve not only the quality of their own lives but the quality life in general for all the citizens of Olympia, Washington.

“Olympia’s tent city looks to Portland camp as model”

Subtitle: “Dignity Village, once illegal, now close to signing 10-year lease on site”

Matt Batcheldor
The Olympian

PORTLAND – Aaron Smith flew and bummed rides to get from Homer, Alaska, to the outskirts of Portland, walking for miles to reach his destination. In the middle of the night, he planted his tent on a little plot the locals call Dignity Village.

Smith, 19, awoke to the sight of sunlight filtering through the makeshift houses and tents on a 0.7-acre plot of what might be the nation’s only tent city allowed on city property.

The camp provides a model that residents of Olympia’s tent city hope to follow. As Olympia decides what to do with the tent city here, it can look two hours to the south to see one that has evolved from an illegal encampment to being close to signing a 10-year lease on city property.

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Homeless Front feature in the new issue of The Pavement, London’s premier homeless magazine. There’s a centrespread photo and Cobbett’s copy appears verbatim below:

Homeless Front Launch

Homeless Front UK, who featured in Issue 15, are practicing what they preach and have launched their Out of the Doorways campaign.

The campaign, which officially began 11th December at St Pancras Church Hall, is based on an internationally successful model of self-help, and the formation of alternative shelters for those on the streets.

Jack Tafari, of Homeless Front UK, told The Pavement: ‘There are 10 fewer people sleeping in the gateway on Surrey Street and in various and assorted doorways in Westminster today, because of the policy and action of the Homeless Front’s Out of the Doorways campaign.

‘Of the 11 homeless people that the Homeless Front UK has housed since its formation, 10 are currently housed at our current HQ or have transitioned on to better circumstances. Only one individual was unable to live up to the five basic rules of our residence agreement and is currently living back on the street.’

Asked to explain the basic premise of Homeless Front UK (HFUK), Tafari said that it is about ‘housing former rough sleepers without the help of any government funding whatsoever and without burdening the British taxpayer. Because one of the bases on which we do not discriminate is that of nationality, HFUK is able to provide shelter to foreign nationals who do not meet the criteria of many of the night shelters and hostels.’

This new organisation is currently applying for charitable status and has begun to secure funding for its activity.

· Cobbett’

― For more information about the Out of the Doorways campaign meetings, go to their website, of call Jack Tafari on 07944 056135. For information in Polish, ring Karolina on 07748 839560.

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Website tech update

We’ve upgraded the site to a newer version of the excellent Open Source content management system Drupal. Stay tuned whilst we iron out any bugs, and add a photo page.

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Homeless Front UK held its first annual general meeting on 11th January 2007 for the purpose of adopting a constitution and electing its officers.

The constitution we adopted is the standard one recommended by the Charity Commission for newly forming charitable associations. Our association has four objectives. In no particular order they are

― To build community with love and respect;
― To provide more housing options for rough sleepers;
― To provide a clean, safe, drug and alcohol free place or places where people who might otherwise inhabit doorways or sidewalks can have their basic needs met until such time as they are able to access permanent housing;
― To build a green, sustainable, urban village.

We are pleased with the outcome of our elections. We now have officers with Jack Tafari elected chair, Lee Walker secretary, and Karolina Stempien treasurer. We are confident in the abilities of our newly elected officers and look forward to the coming year.

The HFUK began as a company of equals. And although we now have the officers required for legal constitution, we remain a company of equals in spirit and firm in our commitment to a rigorous, grassroots democracy.

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Next Tent City Mtg

There’s a tent city meeting again at St Pancras Church Hall on Monday, 18 December, 2006, sponsored by Homeless Front UK as part of its Out of the Doorways campaign. The meeting’s between 4 and 6 PM. The hall’s a nice space, there will be a speaker or two, lots of hot tea, real coffee, and, as it’s the season, eggnog and maybe a mince pie or two also. Everybody’s welcome to come join us.

This meeting we’ll be familiarizing ourselves with the DVD CD-ROM Tent City Toolkit, a multimedia grassroots primer that’s jam packed with all sorts of fascinating information about the tent city model we wish to replicate and adapt. We’ll also be setting up our site selection, media, and legal teams in preparation for January’s direct action. Mainly, though, this meeting will be about networking with interested parties and kicking it with our friends.

For more information about this and future Out of the Doorways meetings, ring Lee (07815 287 847), Leeroy (07708 771 895), or Jack (07944 056 135). For information in Polish, ring Karolina (07748 839 560). And if you miss out on one of the fliers going around, keep an eye on the news section of the Homeless Front’s website.

Everyone’s welcome and we hope to see you there!

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Out of the Doorways campaign kickoff

Homeless Front UK’s Out of the Doorways campaign kicks off officially this coming Monday, 11 December, at the St Pancras Church Hall, Lancing Street, WC1, which is conveniently located on bendy bus route #73 and just a two minute walk from Euston Station.

Our campaign kicks off at 4 PM and we hope you will join us there. There’ll be lots of hot tea, real coffee, interesting speakers and people, and a full-on film crew who are filming our campaign for a sanctioned tent city for a documentary.

The church hall only holds seventy people and, as our campaign is generating considerable interest and support, it would be best to get there on time. For more information ring Lee (07815 287 847), Leeroy (07708 771 895), or Jack (07944 056 135). For information in Polish, ring Karolina (07748 839 560).

Everyone is welcome, we hope you come join us and we look forward to seeing you there!


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Replicating Dignity

‘Replicating Dignity” sees ink in issue 15 of the Pavement, the free magazine for London’s homeless. Here’s the text of the article:

Dignity Village, the former tent city in Portland, Oregon, is the greatest accomplishment of the American poor since Rosa Parks refused to get off the bus. It is the physical embodiment of a dream and hard work on the part of the most oppressed people in this society. Imagine a homeless community coming together with a challenge to a draconian piece of legislation, a camping ban, and living in tents on public land! Tents were a giant step up from the doorways they had been living in.

Dignity’s ‘original soldiers” refused to disband and return to the doorways despite being force-marched by the police from site to site. They were swept five times! Their tactic of the shopping cart parade as they circled Jericho, waiting for cracks to appear in the City’s walls, captured the public imagination.

The Homeless Front’s tenacity and persistence eventually paid off. Dignity Village won legal sanction on its sixth site in 2004 when it was officially designated a campground under an extant but little known state statute.

Dignity Village was birthed in the fire of direct action. When Portland’s camping ban was challenged on two constitutional grounds in September 2000, its homeless community immediately began organising its Out of the Doorways campaign. History had thrown down a gauntlet and Portland’s homeless admirably rose to the challenge and picked that gauntlet up.

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We’re pleased to post playwright Helen Hill’s magnificent short story “THEATER OF THE UNDETERRED” which reads like a play within a play. The story’s set in Dignity Village and namechecks the original Out of the Doorways campaign that led to the birth of the Village.


On my way out of town, I veer off at the Hope Chest Thrift Store; suddenly what I’m wearing feels hopelessly wrong. I grab the first $2 dress that seems to say: “sincere and humble playwright” Perfect, except for the shiny faux gold buttons. Too upscale resale. I buy it anyway, and realize I’m in way over my head even as I hand over the two bucks, realize I’m rushing headlong into a void in a polyester dress that smells like a stranger’s perfume.

God I’m nervous. A bundle of copies of the new play are on the seat beside me, fresh and throbbing like a raw, chapped newborn, tentative and untried. Going public with new work always feels like stretching my neck across a chopping block, but to top it off, the destination of this new work is an infamous village full of strangers whose lives I can’t begin to imagine.

Almost there, I think. But where is this place? I’m lost in the outback. Lonely industrial warehouses scattered among peeling farmhouses, weed-choked idle acres and the whine of converging freeways in the distance; I’m out where God lost his shoes, it seems. Where else would the city of Portland put an acre full of homeless people?

I spy a low patchwork of tar-paper shacks and tents like a jumble of hodge-podge hives, hard to see from the road, but I recognize the yellow plastic “Dignity Village” flag atop a tower of angled sticks, snapping in a chilly wind funnelling down the Columbia Gorge.

I’ve seen pictures on the web, on television and in the newspapers, but this is not what I expected. I imagined the Village would be showcased like the paradigm busting oddity that it is: an autonomous homeless encampment run entirely by the 65 plus or minus residents and granted tenuous status to exist independently (from day to day) by their uneasy landlords; the City of Portland. It’s three years old, and has been written about in the NY Times, the Italian press, and provided a model for homeless camps in Montreal, Japan, Seattle, LA, London and Denver. With all that, it’s easy to miss.

Several years ago, when a new law banning camping within city limits was passed, Portland’s growing homeless population found themselves prodded, poked, tasered, booked, fined and jailed for the crime of having nowhere to sleep. Pockets of poor were swept daily from encampments under bridges, bushes, inside doorways and off dead end streets in the dead of night and told to move along, move along. But there was nowhere to move along to. The shelters were bursting, the social workers exhausted. Long lines began forming at 9 every morning for a chance at a bed 12 hours later and a few hours sleep in a room often full of contagious, coughing people. Couples were split, possessions unsecured, no pets allowed.

The cold winter of 2001 found a core group of homeless fighting back in an effective and original way. With planning and staging, the “Out of the Doorways Campaign” was born; a series of agit-prop actions designed to call attention to the lack of affordable housing and the plight of the homeless. The activists conducted stately parades through downtown Portland with loaded shopping carts, carrying signs and chanting. They camped in strategic places such as open greenways beside upscale housing developments. Wealthy condo owners opened their floor to ceiling curtains to enjoy an espresso in the morning sun and found themselves face to face with tent cities that had bloomed overnight. Newspapers were full of articles about a moveable band of humans, undeterred, with a simple message: “We are a river of people with nowhere to go, and the river is growing wider every day”

Along the way, they acquired a name for their vision of a place to rest and arrest the downward spiral. Dignity Village; a Zion in the heart and mind where fruit trees grow, birds sing, and it’s safe to sleep at night. It took a year, but a red-faced city finally caved to pressure and allowed them to occupy a near-acre in a thinly populated area out by the airport. The vision was realized, though no one ever guessed Zion would look like a wind-swept, asphalt-covered leaf composting yard surrounded by a heavy chain link fence.

I park across from the Village’s neighbor to the south, a sprawling county corrections unit with a twenty foot high razor wire fence, grab the stack of plays and duck as a pair of F15 fighter jets screams into the sky from the nearby National Guard runway. Perfect placement on the part of a city still intent on pressing these independent undeterred into a mold. On either side of them and in the sky above are constant reminders of the power and authority of the military industrial complex, of the system they’ve been displaced out of, are bucking.

There’s a sluggish green slough channeled beside the entrance, (full of jet de-icer run-off and two headed ducks deformed by chemicals, I later learn), leading to what appears to be a small plywood security shack. I see an American flag in the window and a little Scotty guard dog yapping, tail wagging furiously, pulling tight on his chain to greet me. His loopy fur sprouts over button eyes, and I reach down to clear his view of the world. I have to laugh, he looks like he’s about to come apart, he’s so happy, and for a moment I forget how scared I am to cross this unknown threshold, and in that moment, a beaming man in a fluoro-orange vest emerges from the shack with a clipboard and I think this security post seems more like a fragile rib cage protecting a heart.

“Hi! Welcome to Dignity Village!”
“I’m here about a play. I called last week.”
“Oh right, we talked about that at the meeting last night. I’m Ben.”

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Flier – English and Polish versions for download

This flier sees ink in this week’s Big Issue interestingly entitled ” A sight for sore eyes!”

Please click the link to download and print out the flier.

Attachment Size
Tent_City_Flier_English.pdf 95.58 KB
Tent_City_Flier_Polish.pdf 108.15 KB
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Proposal ’04

So people may know what we wish to replicate and adapt, check out the Dignity Proposal to the City.

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