The March 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Truth About Care Not Cash

Resistance to Brown's Curfew

No Millionaire Left Behind

Bush Policies Punish the Poor

Bush Rigs U.S. Society for Rich

SOS! Save Our Services

Faith Reflection on Bush Budget

Plan to End Homelessness in Ten Years

Counted Out in San Francisco

Artist Portrays Act of Giving

Berkeley Protest Demands Shelter from the Storm

Transformation of Dignity Village

George Wynn's Homeless Fiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.


The Ongoing Transformation of Dignity Village

by Jack Tafari

Dignity Village volunteers build one of the new, alternative homes being constructed at the longlasting homeless village in Portland, Oregon.

The transformation of Dignity Village, the longstanding homeless community in Portland, Oregon, from the shanty town that it became after undergoing its fifth sweep, continues unto this day. Today, Dignity is located at Sunderland Yard, a transition begun during the Village Building Convergence in the spring of 2003.

What was birthed by an act of civil disobedience and protest by homeless people who began a campaign has changed into what we are today. And the zoning of the land on which Dignity stands has changed in its designation from industrial to campground. Dignity Village is now Oregon's first transitional homeless campground.

What guides the transformation of this piece of ground is a vision picked up along the way, along with many good supporters. It is the vision of a green, sustainable urban village where we may live simply and in harmony with our mother Earth and where we may do for ourselves and help ourselves and others.

As our proposal so eloquently states, "Dignity Village is the only place-based community in this town that practices grass-roots democracy with an ecological vision. It is the only walkable community not invaded by cars, and it is the most cost-efficient, self-help model for transcending homelessness in the nation."

At Dignity Village, we not only build the housing so readily apparent at Sunderland Yard, but also create community and a model for the future, while helping develop the tools with which to build the model and others like it.

Dignity Village was swept to its present piece of uneven asphalt on what was then part of Portland's leaf-composting facility with the fall leaves in September, 2001. What is most obviously apparent in this transformation are the houses that are being built everywhere in accordance with our proposal to the City of Portland.

Currently, the sounds of power tools and hammers fill the afternoon air and compete with the occasional screams of the jet engines of war planes taking off from the nearby airport runway and the whirr and clank of industrial machinery across the chain-link fence.

Living in Dignity Village can be described as like living on a construction site as Villagers and volunteers deconstruct the "train wrecks," as the old structures are sometimes affectionately called, and reconstruct the new, code-compliant yet portable housing.

There are now houses of many kinds in Dignity Village, from Portland's first strawbale house built during the Village Building Convergence (VBC) in 2003 to the five light straw/clay infill (cob) houses begun and mostly completed during and after VBC 2004. Dignity probably has the largest collection of environmentally friendly cob houses in the Pacific Northwest.

Gaye Reyes now occupies a charming house built with a little help from Portland State's Community Development Club and modeled on a design taken directly from Samuel Mockby's Rural Studio. The interior of the house is nearly complete and finely detailed, a credit to the skill and work of Village woodcrafter Big Al. "Woodworking is really not a job for me," Al says. "It brings pleasure in so many ways."

Gaye plans to send a photo of herself in her house when it's finished to Portland's former Mayor Katz, thanking her for helping locate this piece of God's earth and allowing her to have a home.

Treasurer Tim's house is built using standard stick framing on a 10-by-15-foot deck that stands the requisite 18 inches above the ground that the Bureau of Development Services recommends for all new structures; the height gives the Village cats access underneath the decks to do their work of hunting rats and mice.

Tim points out that his house is reclaimed, having been formerly used and then moved by other Villagers to its new deck. The cedar shingles that adorn its front entrance and the siding on its front wall were also reclaimed from an old garage at Wendy Kohn's farm. The effect is a rugged exterior. "It's kinda like me," Tim says, "rugged looking on the outside, kinda like an old mountain man."

The dwelling's exterior contrasts sharply with its interior of a blue-painted ceiling with clouds and stars, lavender walls and a bright purple carpet. "Once again," Tim points out, "it suits me."
The houses do not really belong to any individual Village member, but are instead the property of Dignity Village, Inc, a membership-based nonprofit incorporation registered with the state and federal governments.

Dignity's radical vision is considered too "controversial" to merit funding through conventional, governmental sources. One day, the Village will be entirely self-sustaining. Until that day, we seek funding through private foundations.

The accompanying article is an as yet unanswered letter to the World Bank requesting a capitalization loan of $1,000,000. Of course, it is doubtful that the World Bank would fund us even if it could. But in transformations of the kind we have undertaken, it is better to leave no stone unturned.

The Power of Who You Know

An Open Letter to the World Bank
by Jack Tafari

It all started when Israel Bayer, the creative director of Street Roots, the homeless newspaper of Portland, asked if I'd like to speak at the Crisis Innovation's Fair 2004 in London in the UK, which he'd learned of through Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C. Upon conferring about the hows and whys of this event with Dignity Village's treasurer and outreach co-coordinator Tim McCarthy, who some know as tight-fisted and "a bit of a Luddite," according to Amy Haimerl's feature article "Pitching Tents" in Denver's Westword magazine, attorney Marc Jolin, who many know as Dignity's defender, and Jo O'Rourke of the British charity Crisis UK, I accepted the invitation to speak as a keynote speaker.

The juxtaposition of keynote speakers at the conference was as startling as the venue at the ABN AMRO Bank in the heart of London's financial district was stunning. Who would have thought a poorly educated Rasta and former doorway dweller would ever share a podium with a Harvard and Brown-educated senior social scientist of the World Bank? I know JAH who is my light and my salvation and who lifteth I up from the dust of the Earth and causeth I to sit at a table with Princes of Men is ever-living and all-powerful. And God alone guides our steps and protects His children.

I do not agree with all of what Dr. Michael Woolcock said during his presentation of the "social capital" theory at the conference which guides WB policy, particularly the vertical linking up and down between those at the bottom and those at the top of the social order. Using the vertical metaphor of a ladder, it seems many rungs for the poor to climb from our present location in social space to the top rung where Michael Woolcock is perched. My reasoning was to write Michael the accompanying letter and go straight to the top as we now know each other from the conference.

Letter to the World Bank

Dear Michael,

My name's Jack Tafari and you might remember that we shared a podium at last October's CRISIS Innovations Fair on Homelessness and Social Exclusion in London, that we met and chatted over glasses of wine at Crisis' Skylight CafŽ the night before the conference. The little village named Dignity where I come from and we talked about is poor at least in terms of monetary capital. We raise funding mostly by writing grants, a skill our grant-writing committee is just learning, and by passing the hat in various ways. We need funding to better serve our community and build the green, sustainable urban village of Our Proposal.

Your presentation of the theory of social capital at the conference, Michael, was strong and compelling, an eye-opener to one such as myself. I see Dignity's formation now with different eyes and recognize our early bonding among next doorway neighbours for what it was in the terminology of the construct, also the networking across the wider community of our early campaign to gain support to extricate ourselves from those doorways and win sanction from the City. It really is in the power of who you know.

My presentation went less well, I'm afraid, as I hadn't slept that well the night before. I'd spent the night on the streets of Brixton in S. W. London shivering under a market tarp on some cardboard I'd found due to a miscommunication with our hosts, something CRISIS UK rectified right away upon learning of it. Sleep deprivation is common enough among us homeless people who lack roofs over our beds. But be that as it may.

I'm glad we had the opportunity to meet at the Skylight, Michael, as it establishes a link between our organizations and thought we might network a little as per your theory. I'm wondering if the World Bank would consider extending Dignity Village a capitalization loan of US $1,000,000 to purchase the land on which to build the magnificent eco-village we envision and have sought for so long. I should think you'd be proud to see your "social capital" model in action.

You concluded your presentation by saying, "The logic we believe we work to is that we start with an idea, debate the idea, try to measure it, and turn it into practice. A key part of moving forward is recognizing that it also flows the other way. At the World Bank, our directors sometimes spend a week in a village. After a week of going to collect water from a hole in the ground, some come back with the equivalent of a religious conversion and want to start basing policy on practice."

On behalf of our directors whose council I chair, I'd like to invite you and your directors to spend a week in our village. We've had many distinguished visitors and guests including a US Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and don't worry, Michael, you won't have to collect your water from a hole in the ground. Our village is built largely with the recycled scraps of what many people throw away and although the asphalt we live on blisters in the summer and floods in the winter, Dignity has the basic amenities.

We could talk about the possibility of such a loan with your visit, its terms, work out repayment schedules and so forth. I wouldn't expect the equivalent of a religious conversion among your directors after spending a week in Dignity, but we could share great discussions about basing policy on practice.

Warm regards,

Jack Tafari
Chairman, Dignity Village, Inc

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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