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Case #626

'Dignity Village' establishes a new model for a homeless community


Sixteen years ago, Ibrahim Mubarek worked as a copy machine repairman and owned a big house and fancy car - the whole nine yards. Devastated by a divorce, he's been homeless off and on ever since. The idea for a community of homeless people began to crystallize in Mubarek's mind when he arrived in Portland a couple years ago, homeless. He stayed in shelters for a while but was lucky enough to find a job and an apartment. He was doing okay, but his friends weren't. Every time he went back to visit the shelters, he found the same people there.

So he started lobbying. "Why y'all still going in that vicious cycle - from jail to shelter to the streets, from jail to shelter to the streets, round and around?" he'd ask the folks staying in the shelter. "I got the day off," he'd tell them, "and I can go with you to help you fill out an application." He laughs to remember the reception he got. "Pretty soon they'd roll their eyes when they saw me comin'!" On one of his lobbying visits, he discovered that several others were lobbying, too.

So they got together-a small group of homeless people and their supporters-and started brainstorming. What could they do? How could they help people get on their feet? The approach they decided on was as simple as it was revolutionary. They asked the homeless people themselves what they needed. Dignity Village was their answer.

Unlike the homeless shelters found in most cities, which tend to institutionalize the homeless, Dignity Village is a self-governing community of about 60 homeless people who take care of themselves by taking care of each other. They build their own shelters, with the help of volunteers, from donated, recycled materials; they recycle their trash; they decide on rules by consensus and enforce them, including a rule that prohibits alcohol and drugs on the premises and a requirement that everyone help with the chores; and they help each other find jobs and apartments. At Dignity Village, all the residents are expected to pull their share of the load. And that, says Mubarek, is why self-respect takes root here.

More than 500 Dignity Village "graduates" have found jobs and apartments in the last year, Mubarek says. Many have beaten drug and alcohol problems. Two women have gotten their children back. One young couple-working now, with an apartment of their own-is back at Dignity today, visiting.

Mubarek and the other Dignity Village founders are convinced that most people just need another chance. "When you was learning to walk - practicing to walk - you kept fallin' and your mother or father'd lift you up. You fall, you get back up. Now, in society, you fall, you're not allowed to get back up."

But Dignity Village is different. "At Dignity, when people are down, we say, `Come on, let's get up together."'


Dignity Village serves as a valuable new example of a different approach to the problem of homelessness in America by placing the responsibility of survival on individuals working as a community. This approach helps to counteract the 'institutionalization' of the homeless population which frequently occurs under the homeless shelter model.

Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Action: Direct
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: Local
Issues: Human Rights
Year(s): 2000
Outcome successful
Source: YES! A Journal of Positive Futures Spring 2002


Prepared By: rja, 5/02
Rating: 1
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