Ashland official eyes Portland's homeless answer

The Ashland City Council made it clear last year that it opposes establishing a homeless camping area, but one council member thinks a new proposal could work.

Councilwoman Carol Voisin says some of the concepts of Dignity Village, an encampment of about 60 homeless people near Portland International Airport, could work in Ashland.

"What I found most interesting was how the homeless take total responsibility for the village," she said. "It's a fine example of how a place can be set up for the homeless to have their own place to live — their own home."

Voisin, who also sits on the Ashland Citizens for the Homeless Coalition, said a similar community modeled around Dignity Village could work for Ashland.

"The secret to it is the homeless have to buy into it; they have to own it," she said.

The coalition sent two of its regular members to Portland for a tour of the village, and in late July will bring representatives from Dignity Village to Ashland for a series of community discussions about what opportunities exist for developing in Ashland an encampment modeled on Dignity Village.

After their tour of the village, Bruce Thauburn, who prefers to go by his Buddhist name, Sangye Tendzin, and Leigh Madsen delivered a report to the coalition and Homelessness Steering Committee, which makes recommendations to the City Council on how to address homeless issues in Ashland.

The steering committee gave positive feedback, said Voisin.

"You cannot have uncontrolled camping; it would turn into 'Lord of the Flies,' " Tendzin said. "But Ashland doesn't offer a solution for safe sleeping. We need a Dignity Village model here."

Dignity Village started as Dignity Camp, a group of about 10 homeless people exercising civil disobedience through squatting in Portland's downtown area. Eventually, a piece of land was provided by the Portland City Council, said Ptery Lieght, outreach coordinator at the village.

"It's a story of successful col

laboration between the city and the homeless community," Lieght said. "I think that Ashland has the capacity to create an obscure space for people to heal in, and get their life back on track."

Lieght will come to Ashland for the open forum discussions, he said.

Dignity Village offers its occupants showers, a kitchen area, food donations and other resources. It has a strict set of rules that the village's residents established and enforce, including no violence, no illegal substances or alcohol, no stealing and no disruptive behavior. Everyone is expected to contribute to the upkeep and welfare of the village.

"It's a community, and they work together, and it's just incredible," said Voisin. "We have no idea where this is going to go. The homeless are going to have to do most of it on their own "… but they'll have my support, and we want to give them the opportunity."

Sam Wheeler is a reporter with the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or email

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