Tag Archives: civicsociety

Waking Up in Orlando

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Waking Up in Orlando

This morning I couldn’t sleep, so I went to take breakfast to my favorite crew on a job site. As I was making the rounds with the site superintendent, one of our team members mentioned that he hadn’t gotten much sleep either because his sister’s home had been shot up in Eatonville. His nieces were there with his nephew, who almost got hit by one of six bullets that hit the front of their house. When the mother went outside, she saw a person dead with his brains “hanging out” on the sidewalk. Her family had gone to stay with her brother, who was standing with me on this job site at 6 am. Understandably, he couldn’t sleep much last night either.

I finished the rounds and completed my business on site, before heading back to the office. Somehow when I read the business journal, I found it hard to get excited about the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s picture would be appearing on the backside of the new five dollar bill. It doesn’t seem to change things for the people living in Eatonville, and all over the United States, who are waking up to bullet holes in their walls and dead people in their yards.

Last week, I heard of two gang related shootings in West Orlando in one day. A friend of mine who teaches at The Human Experience, a private school that supports at-risk children from some of the worst areas of town, posted this picture on Facebook with two separate stories of gang violence that had impacted his life in twenty-four hours.

One was a student who texted him from his home in Parramore, scared because his street was blocked off and his mother couldn’t get back to him. Their neighborhood was on lockdown from a shooting with six victims. At least one dead. The other was one of the school’s “most intelligent, creative, sweet, and promising former students” who “had to witness her mother being shot.”

My heart is broken for Orlando. God help us all, if we sit by any longer and let this continue to happen to another generation. Stop focusing on the political circus that is the U. S. Presidential elections and open your eyes to the ways you can get involved in your community to help those in need. Donate to the Human Experience. Volunteer as an after school tutor at the New Image Youth Center in Parramore.. Clean up Parramore this weekend with The Orlando Union Rescue Mission. Placing Dr. King or Harriet Tubman’s picture on currency won’t do much to change this reality for black, hispanic, immigrant or poor white communities affected by gang violence all over the country, much less in Orlando. But you can begin to do something to help your community today.

Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon

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Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon

Last October I visited Dignity Village – an institutionalized homeless encampment just outside of Portland, Oregon. I had stumbled upon the encampment online, and I jumped at the opportunity to see Dignity Village with my own eyes when I realized that I would be traveling through the area.

Dignity Village is a city-ordained “campground” located on Sunderland Street in Northeast Portland. It has been at its current location for almost 15 years, but most of the residents of Portland have no idea that it exists. It is located near an industrial area in the parking lot of the city’s composting facility. I met a resident named Brian as we checked in at the security desk, and he toured me through the village to show me the amenities.

Brian explained that the “tiny houses” were built by churches and community organizations to accommodate the formerly homeless residents. The structures were built to be no larger than 10’ x 12’ so that building code regulations and permitting were unnecessary. There is no electricity in the houses, but propane heaters donated by the fire department kept the residents warm at night. Residents are required to pay $20 per month in rent, along with offering 10 hours of community service per week (this could include picking up trash, chopping firewood, or manning the security desk as Brian had been doing when I arrived). Electricity is available in the “common area,” along with wifi and cable television. Anyone, including non-residents, can visit this community space between 8 AM – 10 PM, to warm up, use the internet, or just hang out.

A sense of community existed in the village, which I believe is an essential element in the reintegration of marginalized groups into any society. In fact, the entire village started as a group of homeless individuals who banded together while struggling to survive the winter, by forming a tent city underneath an overpass in downtown Portland. Whether intentionally or not, this became the impetus for a movement that demanded the right to housing back in 2000. Eventually, thanks to the work of advocates and community stakeholders, the City of Portland agreed to lease the parking lot of their composting facility to the board of the 501c3 that governs Dignity Village.

The results have been incredible – a sense of community and participation in civic society that is unprecedented in any homeless shelter or section 8 housing, the formation of micro-businesses by residents, and a waiting list of other homeless individuals who would like to become a part of this community. “The five rules are all very basic; No violence, No theft, No alcohol/drugs, No constant disruptive behavior, and Everyone must contribute at least 10 hours per week to better the Village” 

It made me think: what are we waiting for? why can’t we build tiny houses to house the homeless now??  There must be something to this… I’m not saying that they have all the answers, but it seems like the rough draft of a beautiful masterpiece.