Group explores 'Dignity Village' idea for Ashland

The Ashland City Council last year made it clear that it is against designating free camping for vagabonds on city property, an idea initially proposed by some of Ashland's homeless population, losing momentum without council support.

"This is completely different from that," said Councilor Carol Voisin, speaking of Dignity Village, an encampment of about 60 homeless people near Portland International Airport.

"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 an encampment modeled on Dignity Village in Ashland.

After their tour of the village, Bruce Thauburn, who prefers to go by his Buddhist name, Sangye Tendzin, and Leigh Madsen, two Ashlanders who regularly attend meetings of the homeless coalition, delivered a report to the coalition and Homelessness Steering Committee, making 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."

Whether it will happen depends on the enthusiasm Ashland's resident homeless community shows, the ones who aren't just traveling through, Madsen said.

"I know there are enough people camping around town for something like (Dignity Village)," he said.

"The first question we have to ask is, are those people willing to put in the work necessary to make a community like that work?" Madsen said. "We need to let people know what the possibilities are."

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

"It's a story of successful collaboration between the city and the homeless community," Leight 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."

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

Dignity Village offers its occupants showers, a kitchen area, food donations, emergency transportation, access to Internet and other educational and counseling resources, according to its website,

The facility, which harbors tarp-tents, recycled-material and straw-bail bungalows, teepees, wooden shacks and pitched tents, costs about $3,000 a month to maintain, its website states, which it finds through donations.

Children are not allowed to live in the village, which requires members to abide by five rules: no violence toward yourself or others; no illegal substances or alcohol or paraphernalia on the premises or within a one-block radius; no stealing; everyone contributes to the upkeep and welfare of the village and works to become a productive member of the community; and no disruptive behavior of any kind that disturbs the general peace 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."

Madsen and Tendzin both said an encampment like Dignity Village won't wipe out homelessness in Ashland.

"There is no one answer to this problem," Tendzin said. "Dignity Village is an answer to one facet of the problem "… it's a great example of how self-helped people can live responsibly no matter how much we don't like how they look."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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