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dignity village

Little houses for the homeless similar to those being constructed in Madison are gathered in a community in Dignity Village in Portland, Ore.

The first “tiny home” constructed for Madison's homeless was officially occupied earlier this week — the first of what OMBuild, a nonprofit organization that grew out of Occupy Madison — hopes will eventually be a “village” of little houses for the formerly homeless.

City ordinances require the house — parked on the street — to be moved every 48 hours.

OMBuild is waiting for a qualified nonprofit group, like a church, to step forward and obtain a newly created zoning permit that will allow a little house to be placed permanently on private property. Long-term, OMBuild would like to own property on which a “village” of little houses could be developed.

Madison is not the first community with the “village” vision.

Friends of OMBuild toured a half-dozen homeless “villages” and encampments in Oregon and Washington several weeks back, with an eye to learning about what seems to work and what doesn’t.

Brenda Konkel, an advocate for homeless people and a former Madison City Council member, wrote about the tour on her Forward Lookout blog.

Sites visited include Dignity Village, a community of up to 60 people on publicly owned land on the outskirts of Portland, Ore. Right to Dream Too is a “rest area” located on private property in downtown Portland, fenced with a ring of recycled doors morphed into a mural art project.

Eugene, Ore. is home to Opportunity Village, a community of 30 people in little houses and even littler plastic Quonset huts on land rented from the city. A heated yurt serves as a common area. Eugene SLEEPS — Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to SLEEP — is a movement that has established several “rest stops” around the city. These include Whoville, a tent encampment on a city right-of-way that was still operating early this month despite orders to vacate in September.

Camp Quixote in Olympia, Wash., was home to about 30 people living in tents awaiting little houses in Quixote Village. Federal funding requires that professional contractors build the housing, which will include heat, sprinklers and restrooms. A community facility will include showers, offices and a kitchen.

“Clearly a work in progress,” Konkel remarked on her blog.

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Several of the camps faced uncertain futures as the owner of the land, private or public, wanted to put it to different use.

“The issue of renting the land from local government is hugely problematic because they always can change their mind or change the rules on you — I believe that the best model is for the land to be owned by the group,” she commented in an email.

One impression Konkel says she is taking away from the tour is the role of fences. “Fences are important — it gives the community a sense of security and personal responsibility — and that gives people the right to govern what goes on there,” she wrote.

Konkel also remarks that “people have been able to make the model very successful with minimal intervention from the outside and it has resulted in very few problems in the surrounding community.”

Governance of the community was a common challenge, Konkel notes in her blogs. Issues include alcohol and drug use, theft, smoking — and, Konkel noted — an issue that has come up at Occupy Madison and many a home, tiny or not: Who should do the dishes.