RVing in a southwest Oregon regrowth forest,
with story and music
with music and story.
And when people communicate
it works.    A real blessing

A RECOLLECTION: JIM M

Jim M, with companion dog Jake,
summarized for me their two-year plus
resident membership at Dignity Village.
“It was a blessing.

 

When I first got to the Village
a competent bunch of people
were running the place.
Dignity Village offered a sense of security.
Dignity Village offered a sense of community
Villagers didn’t argue about petty shit.

 

 

Dignity Village is a great idea.
For those of us coming off the street
Dignity Village looked really good.

Jim does music and words:
“When I was four I started playing drums.
nearly drove my folks crazy.
They got me a guitar…with lessons,
until I told my teacher I didn’t want to play
Mary Had A Little Lamb.

“By high school I was doing solo
and concerts with a couple good players.
We traveled, played, traveled, lots of applause.
Recording…Contracts. It was great fun.
Money…Decisions…
…management…
…bad decisions.

Life happened,…the street…the Village.

“When I came the Village was a blessing..
When I left it had become close-minded.
I felt like I was walking on eggs.
Wise people.didn’t have a voice
VIC (Village Intake Committee) took in people
with few brain cells left in their crackheads.
I don’t miss a thing about the Village.
When I left if a truck ran over one or two I’d clap.



 

A RECOLLECTION: TIM M


Tim, a co-founding alum of Dignity Village,
remembered for me homelessness
as we toured his new home and garden.


“The street’s a terrible place to live.
Kicked around, harassed, bullied,
living without, unloved, unforgotten,
dumpster-diving ‘mystics of malcontent’.

“You are expected to feel worthless,
like you did something wrong.
We don’t need labels
to be put into classes.
With just our thinking we could change.
We know we could change.

“We know about:
always waiting,
always listening,
always alert,
out on the street
flying signs,
sleeping in a cardboard box,
sleeping with your shoes on—people steal,
sleeping on mats 6” apart—illness goes
round and round,
going to a restroom, a luxury,
standing in line by 3 to get a bed at 7,
the cost of education barrier,
the getting a job necessity,
…and nutrition and exercise
and self-respect and confidence.

“We know there’s something better out there…
…it’s lonely on the street.
Yet you get to know yourself.

“You learn to live without,
to take care of yourself,
to respect money,
to value cast offs.

“We found out sheltering is big business,
thousands of dollars
made off the backs of the homeless.

“We wanted to build a community
that would work together;
not a party place
for the downtown homeless crowd.


“While putting Dignity Village together
we found out who our friends weren’t and aren’t.
By starting the Village
we were all considered domestic terrorists:
Shorty
Jack
Ibrahim
J. P.
Rob
Tom
JadaMae
Gaye
and me.

“In doing for ourselves
we learn failures can succeed
and success gives self-respect and dignity.

“Village alumni are home owners
and homeless advocates,
a construction exec and a restaurateur,
a law student, an art manager, a writer,
back-to-collegers, elder care-givers
and managers of homeless shelters.

“When a temporary reprieve is needed,
at twenty dollars and forty-hours per month,
Dignity Village works.





“And what do I miss most since leaving the Village?
After growing up in a family of eight kids,
then Village tarps and tents echoing interior sounds,
I miss most the camaraderie of morning coffee
…and the bickering.”



A RECOLLECTION: DAVE S


“Watch your thoughts for they become words.
Watch your words for they become actions.
Watch your actions for they become habits.
Watch your habits for they become character.
Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”

April 2013

Dave S’s Dignity Village structure
overflows with rocks and beads
and words in books. words on wood,
…creative whatevers.
Notes of thoughts, drawings in pads,
organizational attempts are wherever.
…and the laptop.

“…In these words.”


Sampson-17
“The English language is my play toy and if I don’t like what I find, I make a few modifications to make it more useful. If you don’t like that put this down and read something else.

“Some things are never meant to be seen. And others lying well within the sight of man are not seen at all! They say that within the valley of the blind the one eyed man is king! This is the story of such a man.

Sampson-19“Think back with me. What’s your first strong memory. Do you have one? For me, with crystal clarity I can see when I was five, the last summer in Fullton, a small town in upstate New York. The summer air hung with diffused and golden light, I remember taking a piece of fiberboard backing off an old TV set from the fifties and dragging it out to a small pine tree at the edge of my father’s house. And pulling it up to a fork in the small tree. That effort coating me in the warm rich smell of pine sap.  (Pine sap still triggers that memory!) I remember sitting in that tree and feeling a sense of belonging. Even the wind in the trees and the sound of summer insects seemed to vibrate and hum in solar harmony.  The memory is my light through dark times and candle in my window. You wonder. Is this of importance to me?

Sampson-18“I share this with you for one very important reason. When confronted with darkness, more often than not it is memory that guides our actions and memories that color the choices we make. So when you find yourself in darkness and have to make a choice what memory guides your thoughts? Is it something fearful or something joyous? In most people the map time makes on our faces will tell you a great deal. Or do you wear a mask to conceal the truth? When a person next to you acts upset or irrational ask yourself what memory may be driving them. Is it the light of Life or something dark, for the world of dreams is also the world of nightmares.

“Truth offers no threat to the honest.

“Whereabouts I found myself washed up, desolate, depressed and slowly drinking myself to death. My dreams locked away. My former life in ruins. My life force just a trickle.  It would take six years to realize I had the key of Life hidden in my world of dreams. But even in the decay I found myself a place of refuge that gave me time to heal, rediscover myself and begin to dream.

Sampson-8“Now the people I found myself among would teach me many things. First is my personal journey thus far had been pretty smooth compared with the horror stories I began to hear. My new friends’ refuges in their own landscapes from the mouth of society outline many broken teeth. Stories of rape, murder, abduction, addiction! These were unknown in my little world. I would learn a great deal about misery and pain. Every day those castoff walking dead broadcast their pain to anyone. Attacking those who dare show signs of life or sing or dream or share the thought that maybe with effort life might be better. Yes, I found myself in cannibal country; or on good days in the vicinity of misfit toys. Laughter my best ally and good medicine for new friends and myself.

Sampson-16“This, my Dignity Village time, would come in two parts separated by a three year period. I spent a year and a half up the river and a year and a half in Sacramento where they worship at the temple of consumerism. Getting back to my point, my first day in the Village was surreal in the extreme. After being dropped off by my mother I stood facing a table 9 feet in diameter piled deep in old Hostess products that later in the evening I would go by that same pile lively with rats combing for donuts. And the next day Villagers would wipe the rat shit off and eat them as if nothing were amiss. To this day I do not go into a store without that visceral scared into my head. Donuts anyone? This is but one of many adjustments I would learn to make as I came to learn habits for survival.

Sampson-1“Well meaning supporters continue to bring vast amounts of baked goods contributing to obesity and poor health. And of course this was a great boon to the rat population and made any effort at sanitation a nightmare. I was learning about what really matters from people to whom nothing really matters. It was as if I had learned nothing in life and had to start over again. Ironic, especially if you add the fact that I was starting life again not a thousand yards from where I was actually born. The world is a beautiful place filled with funny people. It got better as I go, just stuff and stuff replaced. Just laugh. I would also learn that compared to others I was vastly wealthy in the personal sense. I had good family, lots of friends and rich and creative dreams. I came to realize that I have everything that money can’t buy.

Sampson-2“By the way this is more than I have ever written in my entire life. I just for the first time used up a pen! Wow, every page I write gets easier than the last and seems to flow out of me with increasing speed and clarity. Just two years ago I would have been hard pressed to write even one whole page! In the long run ending up at the Village has been a great boon to where ever I am going in Life.

“Shortly I went elsewhere and tried my fortune in California. Found work. Lost love. Faced homelessness and my ex was the only person I knew there and if homeless isn’t bad enough, being homeless without friends was something I did not want. So it was back to Portland and Dignity Village where at least I knew I could find shelter, friends and family. Friends and allies are one of life’s great treasures. It’s one thing that Village life taught me. Kinda the School of Hard Knocks on overdrive, “Waiter, reality check please! No doggy bag. I’m only taking the knowing with me.’

Sampson-3“Living in the Village can be a daily test of faith, patience and sanity. I say with a good measure of safety that I’ve been and beyond all boundaries in the last nine years. And the whole time nursing a life-threatening case of depression. Michele M comes into our story at the perfect moment. I had just reached THAT moment, your first true day of recognition as an alcoholic. I was watching my friend Steve O die before my eyes. Enter Michele, a drug and alcohol counselor. She has been a great help, a good friend and got me through it. And in a place like the Village which you would call a target-rich environment for drugs and alcohol ! Getting away from it is something of a miracle.

Sampson-10“Now getting back to Steve O’s death. Before I knew that Steve O was dying we used to hang out and drink together after our 12 to 4 security shift. The last time I drank with Steve O we drank a gallon and half of vodka and I woke a day later still fucked up. Depressed as hell I knew that if I kept that up I would die. That small little voice in my head said, ‘We don’t want to die, Dave. Let’s just give it one more try.’ So I started talking to Michele once a week and slowly over the course of a year or two I brought my ship around! We chose the course of cognitive behavioral therapy and it works. That’s right folks. You can just think yourself out of hell if you wish! Now a lot more is involved than just thinking your way through. The first step is to admit to yourself that you’re having trouble. Find a good counselor. Take basic common sense steps. Like if your friends drink every night you’ll have to stop hanging out there! Tell them of your intentions. If they are real friends they will understand, if not fuck ‘em, find new friends. Now getting back to Steve O, he took my not drinking and spending time with him as rejection and I still feel bad he felt that way. But he chose death and I wouldn’t be here writing these words to share with you so the choice I made is obvious. I still occasionally have a beer. But the daily drinking myself to sleep is long gone. For example I would not be writing this because when you’re poor, finding the three to five dollars it takes to get drunk can take all day and as I am disinclined to theft and dishonesty well I think you see my point!

Sampson-7“Now Steve O’s memorial was hard! His family came and most of the Village was there. Everybody shared their feeling about Steve O. He was well liked. I was one of the last to speak. I just let loose!. I left crying. The memorial was much harder than the end of life vigil. Seeing the empty shell of a man was easier than talking about him because I had to pull away and get myself right in the head which he took as personal rejection. He drank every day and I couldn’t be around that. Other friends understood and respected my decision  even though it meant I would spend less time with them. They drink every day but they work. Functioning alcoholics. When I did hang out with them they were respectful enough not to push it on me. Some people can live being an alcoholic but I am not one of them. I don’t start fights or cause trouble, no, I just get goofy, then sloppy, then pass out. I still drink once in awhile but cut down about 90%. Not bad for a guy that’s been drinking since the age of 12. No, for me the worst part of being an alcoholic was what happened when I woke up at three o’clock in the morning with insomnia and depression and needed again, again until I got drunk again. Liver still functioning?  Other damage? Of course. As a result of the depression, chronic pain rampant wants pain meds results in bleeding ulcer. Add stress more intense…drinking Dave…drunk Dave…drinking Dave…disaster Dave…myself Dave…MYSELF.

Sampson-9“With the help of friends, daily meditation and immense desire not to die of renal failure or blithering mind I made it. There is also good in the Steve O story. Steve O did not die alone. A lot of homeless alcoholics die alone. I think loneliness and feeling no one cares are the hardest part. I have always been lucky on that one! Lots of people care about me and encourage my efforts. For a long time I just did not see that! I have always been fond of the Russian proverb: ’I cried because I had no shoes, ‘til I met a man with no feet’. It’s kinda like that for me. I have passed through darkness and oblivion to find myself no worse for wear. Lucky and blessed from the start. I look around I realize that in the things money can’t buy I must be just about the richest man on earth!”

Sampson-14Sampson-11




Sampson-38

September 2014
Drawings in pads, words in books
and words on wood.
Notes of thoughts
and rocks and beads
and creative whatevers.

Dave’s father’s garage
2nd floor workshop
overflowing with opportunities.

Organizational attempts wherever.
…and the laptop.


Sampson-20

Sampson-23Sampson-27Sampson-29

Sampson-35



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