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Homeless activists say safety, stability the priority

[caption id="attachment_5964" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Folks with Right 2 Dream Too at their "membership site" at NW Fourth and Burnside."][/caption]

A group of homeless people who have set up a new residential community say they are trying to establish a safe and stable place for people experiencing homelessness in Portland.

Just don’t call it a “camp.”

“We checked the coding, we checked the zoning, we checked everything, and now they want to call it a camp. This is not a camp,” says Ibrahim Mubarak, one of the leaders of the small group and one of the founders of Dignity Village. “We’re not going to build, we’re just going to have stable structure things that people can sleep under and be safe and dry under by no structures that are permanent.”

The group – calling itself Right 2 Dream Too — is an offshoot of the Right 2 Survive organization. Right 2 Survive is composed of homeless and housed people advocating for civil and human rights for people on the street. They’re calling the site at Fourth and Burnside a “membership space,” with the purpose of raising awareness on the importance of safe and secure place for undisturbed sleep.

“We’re out here because there is no place for people who have no place to sleep to sleep. So we want to bring in a good place where they can come and rest,” says Ibrahim.

This isn’t an outcropping of the Occupy Portland event happening downtown. This has actually been in the planning stages for months, and has been a stated project of Right 2 Survive from its earliest days more than a year ago. The opening of the camp was timed with National Homeless Day.

[caption id="attachment_5966" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Members of Right 2 Dream Too discuss plans at their new membership site at NW Fourth and Burnside. Photos by Cole Merkel"][/caption]

According to the people at the site, the property owners, Dan Cossette and Michael Wright, have donated a one-year lease to Right 2 Survive in order to provide a space for people experiencing homelessness to sleep. City officials, however, were on the site this afternoon responding to an anonymous complaint that the space is in violation of a city ordinance regarding illegal residential occupancy. That ordinance prohibits unpermitted tents, campers, motor homes and other structures not intended for permanent residential occupancy. (As of 3:30 p.m., Dan Saltzman’s office, which oversees with the permitting process, said it was still waiting for information to determine the site’s status and how to proceed.)

Cosette and Wright were the owners of Cindy’s Adult Bookstore, once located on the same plot. But that business was closed and the building demolished in 2008 after City Commissioner Randy Leonard’s controversial “hit team” concluded it was a chronic code violator.

Moving forward, the Right 2 Dream Too folks seem intent on working with the city and the property owners to make the site viable and productive.

“We also need to be at the table!” says Leo Rhodes, a member of the Right 2 Survive Board of Directors, and also a vendor and board member with Street Roots.

In a printed statement to the press, Mubarak said he hopes other landowners will seize the opportunity to open up their property for people to use.

“I wish that other landowners who have vacant land and don't know what to do with it right at this moment would donate that land to houseless people ­like the owner's of this land did.  Dan Cossette and Michael Wright have done this out of the goodness of their hearts.  I wish others would follow suit and do this.  Maybe you would see more people get off the streets, and maybe you would see more people become productive.  And maybe you'd see more people come together to build things because we are smart, we're not dumb.”

posted by Joanne Zuhl and Cole Merkel