Dignity Village concept gets mixed welcome

A forum on the possibility of setting up a homeless encampment in Ashland drew broad curiosity from those in attendance, but very few homeless people.

Members of a panel that included representatives from Portland's Dignity Village expressed disappointment there weren't more members of Ashland's homeless community at the Wednesday night forum.

Panelist Aaron Fletcher, an Ashland homeless man who cofounded Home Free Hostel in the hope of establishing work-trade housing arrangements for the homeless, said he wasn't surprised.

"Most of that community are transients "… they have no invested interest in the community," he said.

Fletcher said he does not support establishing an encampment similar to Dignity Village in Ashland.

"We already discussed this with the city two years ago, and everyone said no. For a lot of us, this is old ground," he said.

Since arriving in Ashland Monday, Dignity Village representatives have met with the Jackson County Homeless Task Force and city officials, including Mayor John Stromberg.

"We've had great reception from everyone we've met with this week," said Bruce Thauburn, who prefers to go by his Buddhist name, Sangye Tendzin.

Tendzin is a member of the Ashland Citizens for the Homeless Coalition, which raised money to host the Dignity Village representatives.

Speaking of Wednesday's forum, he said, "We are pleased with the results "… we'll continue to talk."

Dot Fisher-Smith, who has lived in Ashland for 31 years, said she is a supporter of the homeless community's right to sleep in Ashland but was annoyed by the forum.

"I haven't seen any sign of the homeless community coming together to get behind anything," she said. "They have to do it themselves."

Dignity Village, she said, provides a good model, but it would not work without support from Ashland's homeless community.

Fisher-Smith is skeptical whether a work-trade and community housing concept such as Home Free Hostel would succeed because it would have to depend on community donations to pay for rent. Others at the forum voiced the same concern.

"I don't know Ashland's homeless community believes it can happen," said Raven Usi, who attended the meeting and has been homeless in Ashland for a year and a half.

After the meeting, Brad Gibson, David Samson and Scott Laymen, all of whom have lived at Dignity Village for more than a year, said they felt well-received during the forum and task force meeting.

"But the homeless need to be a part of the talk," Gibson said.

Dignity Village started as Dignity Camp, a group of about 10 homeless people exercising civil disobedience through squatting in Portland's downtown area. After being cited and meeting with then-Portland Mayor Vera Katz, the group achieved recognition and a dedicated piece of land from the Portland City Council, said Ptery Lieght, outreach coordinator at Dignity Village.

The facility, which includes tarp tents, recycled material and straw-bale bungalows, teepees, wooden shacks and pitched tents, costs about $3,000 a month to maintain, its website states. Funding comes from donations and $25 per month from tenants. Those who stay are also required to work a minimum of 44 service hours around the encampment each week.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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