CONTACT INFORMATION for our City and County governments is at at the bottom of this Blog Page!

Please consider writing to our local leaders. Let’s encourage them be more proactive in developing green work and housing programs for the poor.

Below are some Sample Letters. ———————————————————————————

Letter / address to Portland City Council  re/ the need to develop a more effective local plan for helping the newly homeless (10-07-09):

Portland City Council
Portland, Oregon

October 7, 2009

Dear Portland City Council Members,

There’s Been a Shift in Homelessness, and Far Too Many Are Without Shelter

Here in the Portland metro area, the suffering of seven to ten thousand people, caught out in the rain day and night without shelter, will surely affect the well being of each of us. When the rainy season begins, there will be unprecedented suffering among us locally.

So far, I am shocked at the insensitivity of this Council, and of the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness (CCEH) concerning the long delay in promulgation of guidelines which would allow for regularized exceptions to the anti-camping law. Our Mayor, who showed such sensitivity in ‘declaring a public emergency’ last year when an expensive west hills house slid down a hillside,  has so far failed to consider the suffering of thousands of un-sheltered citizens city-wide to be worth of an “emergency” declaration.

Mr. Mayor, Commissioners, the stories of a large, fast-growing number of souls without shelter locally will confirm that a public emergency does now exist in Portland. It is fully within your power to allow emergency encampments.

This problem will not get better without a better plan. Stronger actions are needed from this Council. Public health and safety are increasingly at risk.  With such a large and fast growing homeless population locally, there inevitably comes a growing likelihood of crime and disease in the general population. Epidemics are more likely to happen, and to linger. Time is not on our side while we are without an effective plan to help the many who are homeless for the first time.

The CCEH, under Commissioner Fish,  has been charged with carrying out the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. This current approach of local government, their stated mission, is to focus primarily on ending ‘chronic‘ homelessness.  This is a good idea because elements within this population are responsible for a disproportionately high amount of police calls and emergency medical treatment. Many are low functioning, and need special help.

However, this approach – focusing primarily on the chronically homeless – is increasingly limited in its effectiveness, in that a shrinking percentage of homeless people are being helped in today’s economy.  Most today are not ‘chronically homeless cases’ anymore. This approach is also very expensive, involving H.U.D. funding and program requirements tying most housing assistance to ongoing case management.

Most of the homeless who are not mentally ill, nor addicted, nor pregnant, nor in need of protection from a spouse, nor low-functioning, nor otherwise prone to chronic homelessness – are generally turned away or de-prioritized. Housing assistance waiting lists are over two years long. Many higher functioning individuals desperately misrepresent their circumstances to qualify as ‘chronic’ or high risk — in order to be moved up on the lists.

For most of those helped, there is little to no emphasis on work programs or self-support. Many are low-functioning and this is understandable. But in the case of high-functioning people who want to work in order to maintain their dignity, there is little opportunity at present coming through government.  There could be and should be more emphasis on work, training, and self-support.

Developing An Apparatus for Addressing This Shift in Homelessness

In just the last year, there has been a shift.  A majority of the homeless among us these days are working class people, who just want to be able to support themselves again. The economy is no time soon going to be offering enough work opportunities.

The mission which has been given to our CCEH to help the homeless must somehow be re-focused and expanded to include the newly homeless as well. The needs of the average newly homeless person out there are simpler. Most are simply asking for work so that they can again support themselves. The economy is not offering them much hope, and subsidized housing or shelter options are painfully few.

We therefore strongly recommend that the Portland City Council and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners take effective action as soon as possible. Among the possible logical options are:

A) to expand and bolster our CCEH so that its mission will include helping to develop work programs with shelter for larger numbers of the working-class poor,  AND

B) to set up a task force within the Mayor’s Office whose focus would be to significantly increase coordination with other metro area county and municipal governments on homelessness issues, AND

C) to develop more effective public-private partnerships for the specific purpose of giving both shelter and work/training to those who are willing to work, AND

D) to allow camping for the homeless on designated public lands as soon as possible, where tents need not be taken down daily.

If the current CCEH mission can not expanded, then it becomes essential that another agency or set of agencies should be charged with the responsibility of providing opportunities for at least part-time work in exchange for room and board for otherwise homeless citizens.

It would be best if all of the city councils and county boards of commissioners across the metro area would do much the same thing.  Since Portland has the biggest influence in this mess, Portland’s city leaders should lead the way.

If this Council, in cooperation with County, State and federal governments, would work at creating local, sustainable farms which offer opportunities for self-support, training and shelter to the homeless, there would be a great return on that investment in terms of suffering alleviated, at minimum.

Most sustainable farm programs for the formerly homeless around the country require only about 20 labor hours per week from their residents.  This is a win-win arrangement, as the workers help maintain their room and board, while learning valuable skills, while keeping down or eliminating public costs for their own care. Through such programs, residents tend to become healthier, and better equipped to re-enter the regular job market.

If this Council will take such steps, you would be leading the way in establishing a more localized  “social safety net.” This is increasingly important, as federal programs are likely to become less reliable under the weight of our national debt.

About Criminalization of Homelessness in Portland

It has been overheard at more than one high-brow cocktail party attended by real estate developers in Portland that, “if the City can avoid allowing camping long enough, many of the homeless will move away, and we will avoid an influx of homeless people from elsewhere.”

Most of the newly homeless out there today are long-time Portlanders, who were working until recently. They want to work again. They consider this place their home, despite their misfortune. Where would those without tolerance for poverty have them go?

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) has documented the trends in the criminalization of homelessness since 1991. The NLCHP’s most recent report, “Out of Sight – Out of Mind?,” surveyed advocates and service providers in 50 of the largest U.S. cities. They found that 86 percent of the cities surveyed had laws that prohibited or restricted begging, while 73 percent prohibited or restricted sleeping and/or camping. Over one-third of the cities surveyed have initiated crackdowns on homeless people, according to the survey respondents, and almost half of the cities have engaged in police “sweeps” in the past two years.

So really, where do you hope that they will go? Do you think that by waiting you will see many of them leave Portland? I am sure this will happen. But you will still have thousands who are determined to stay, and their suffering will bring consequences which pose threats to public health and safety. Can we please become a ‘light on a hill’ to those in need, and stop trying to keep our local poverty hidden?

The Oregon Law Center’s law suit against this City states that, ”Punishing homeless people for sleeping outside is placing the burden of the lack of sufficient housing squarely on the shoulders of those who can do the least to remedy this problem.”  This is very true. And it does indeed amount to systematic criminalization of an involuntary status, in a majority of cases.

Concerning the Taking of Poor People’s Shelters and of Vital Possessions

Regarding sweeps and arbitrary takings of personal belongings, the Oregon law concerning proper treatment of the homeless includes this clause concerning property seized from ‘illegal camps’ are found at  ORS 203.079 (Required elements of local government policies on camping by homeless.)

Correspondingly, Portland’s law says at

PSF-3.04 – Illegal Camping – Notification & Enforcement, Property & Referral Procedures

Non-Evidentiary Property (835.20)
a. Abandoned Non-Valuables: If campers are present, they should be encouraged to clean the site themselves . . .
b. Personal Property: For the purposes of this directive, personal property means any item that is reasonable recognizable as belonging to a person and that has apparent use. These items of personal property will be stored for a minimum of thirty (30) days. Items that have no apparent use or are in an unsanitary condition may be immediately discarded upon removal of the homeless individuals from the camping site.

These laws are too often being disregarded by the Portland Police Bureau.  I have heard many sad stories, and have begun taking affidavits, about the taking of tents, bedding and other personal items from the homeless in ‘sweeps,’ and about subsequent frequent failures by the PPB to make the seized property available for 30 days as required by law.

Too often, for police officers to whom the homeless are not worthy of a place to sleep or to store their few personal belongings, the discretion given them by our laws as to whether a seized item is ‘unsanitary’ or has any ‘apparent usefulness’ is just a joke. Too often their actions are arbitrary and capricious.  When such unlawful takings are carried out by private security forces, and this is condoned or not opposed by local law enforcement, then this rises to the level of organized crime.

This behavior among our police has become so common as to be clearly indicative of at least a de facto policy of discrimination against the status of homelessness, in violation of both federal law and state laws concerning due process and equal protection.

The problem of bullies on police force, common in large cities, is not being effectively addressed in our City. These laws of ours give overly-wide discretion to our police officers, while top-down acquiescence (if not encouragement) of such policies on the part of their leadership helps to drive this atmosphere of bullying. It is not right to flippantly dispose of a person’s possessions when they have so very little. These laws need to be tightened up, and the bullying needs to be addressed more aggressively.

Regardless of how the courts may rule concerning the current lawsuit brought by The Oregon Law Center against our anti-camping law, there will be an endless procession of new plaintiffs, and of fresh grievances, and of the inevitable consequences of such fundamental unfairness, until this Council decides to take effective steps to end this criminalization of poverty.

Once again, I am grateful for the privilege of speaking to you.

— David R.

The G.R.O.W.S. Committee

For “Green Residential Oregon Work Sites“
P.O. Box 3482  Portland, OR 97208


Letter/ Speech to each of the Multnomah County Commissioners re/ the growing need for poor farms with training focus (09-03-09):

Linda M.
Portland, Oregon
September 3, 2009

Dear County Commissioners,

My name is Linda M.  I am here to ask Multnomah County to work with the Portland City Council to create sustainable farms where people who are homeless and want to work can live in simple housing, help to grow their own food,  and receive vocational training on site. In conjunction with this, of course, we need to continue to provide care for those who are ill or too frail to work.

I have watched housing issues in Portland for the past 25 years. I remember touring Central City Concern housing in the Pearl with the League of Women Voters and appreciating  the model with services available on the ground floor of the apartments.   In those days I thought that was the answer – provide enough housing and services to keep people off the streets.

Unfortunately times and numbers have changed.  We can no longer provide permanent housing fast enough for the increasing number of homeless in Portland.  We do not have the money to pay for it.   We need to look for creative and less expensive solutions which  help people to support themselves whenever possible.

We must think about transitional housing combined with jobs. In this bountiful state of ours, every person who wants to work should be offered opportunities to do so, along with a safe and dignified  place to live.  By establishing farms where people are provided with food and inexpensive shelters in exchange for working some minimum amount of hours, we can meet this moral obligation.   In a farming environment,  we can naturally provide green job training and also create other micro businesses.  Blanchet House (Farm)  is successfully doing this out near Newburg for recovering addicts. We also need more recovery communities like that one.

Yes, what we are proposing has similarities to the poor farms of the past, but it also has similarities to the Jobcorps and Americorps,  which have always been a safety net  for young people who are looking for jobs and can not find work.  In these times we now need a safety net for older members of our population too.

In the last few years, I have been a Realtor and one of the things that has fascinated me is the job generating  networks that revolve around Real Estate.  Contractors, home inspectors, lenders, title companies, trades people etc.  We create work for each other. This naturally happens wherever people are creating new housing, whether expensive or inexpensive! Immigrants from other countries and cultures, cooperating efficiently on limited budgets, often know how to create work for themselves much better than Americans do.

In this time of economic uncertainty,  we need to be creating economic development opportunities of every kind.   Establishing farms where people without shelter or jobs can live and work — and get job training for advancement beyond their time at the farm — can be part of the answer in meeting our economic development needs while we live within our limited public budgets.

The number of homeless people in the Portland metro area continues to increase.  For the past few months I have been gardening in the Irvington neighborhood with a group composed of members of several churches and other neighborhood people.  Our goal is to grow food for some of the Portland area food programs.  I have been amazed at how many homeless people pass by the garden every day.  Their numbers seem to be growing at an ever increasing rate.

One thing I love about Portland is that when we are faced with a challenge we do not sit around and avoid it.  We may struggle with it, but we find a creative compassionate way to address it.  Establishing farms for the homeless in our city and county would help address the growing deficit of both housing and jobs for those in need.  Let’s make this a reality and become a model for the nation, as we so often are.

Sincerely yours,

Linda M.


Letter/ speech to each of the Multnomah County Commissioners re/ the growing need for green working communities (07-23-09):

The GROWS Initiative
Portland, Oregon

July 23, 2009

Ted Wheeler, Chair
Multnomah County Board of Commissioners
Portland, Oregon 97214

Dear Commissioner Wheeler,

I am here today to advocate for the fast growing number of newly homeless people in the Portland Metro area. Recent statewide counts indicate that as of a given day in January of this year, there were 17,000 homeless people statewide, and that about half this number is in the Portland Metro area. Many more people since January have lost their jobs and their homes. The City has its ‘Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness,’ administered by the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness (CCEH). In cooperation with the City’s Housing Bureau, they have been doing a sure, steady job of housing more and more otherwise chronically homeless people.

The CCEH is handicapped, however. Their mission is to focus primarily on getting shelter and program help to the chronically homeless. But in the five years since adoption of the ‘Ten Year Plan’, our economy has taken a dive, and the chronically homeless are no longer the bigger part of the story of our local poverty.   The fastest growing segment of the homeless population is “the newly homeless” – many of whom were working until very recently, and many of whom are actually still working, but for various reasons can not afford housing. There are many thousands more locally, as you know, who are but one paycheck away from becoming homeless.

Many people would rather not hear about worst case economic scenarios. They want to hear upbeat economic forecasts. This is understandable. The markets are driven in large part by consumer and investment confidence. We would all like to believe that things have ‘bottomed out’ already and will get better from here. The most reputable of economic forecasts, however, are quite clear: the broader economy has not yet bottomed out, and in fact, unemployment is rising while real wages continue to decline. New state economic numbers indicate that 28% of Oregonians are now qualified for Food Stamps.

Even among optimistic bureaucrats locally, there is a quiet understanding that the federal money that is being infused into our local economy will not be enough to give jobs or housing to all of the newly homeless. The economic downturn is too severe, and the national debt too big. If the Obama Administration and this Congress were to spend all that it would take to stimulate our economy back toward full employment, we risk hyperinflation. Federal allocations for the poor will likely flat-line or decrease from this year forward.

Therefore, we must have the political courage to develop local solutions. We must have the foresight to help re-establish, locally, an effective ‘social safety net.’ During the Great Depression, all over the U.S., millions of poor people found dignity and relief on local “poor farms.”  There is a stigma attached to that term today, and of course we have a come a long way since then. But these days, it is becoming increasingly clear that well-organized farm or other green work communities would be very useful and compassionate in dealing with the rapid rise in homelessness. A modern day green work program might offer not only shelter and food, and hopefully basic medical care, but also practical training of every kind to participants willing to commit to such programs.

Training and certification in nutrition, first aid, master gardening, old-fashioned home economics, construction, or a range of other green skills might all be part of the educationally focused work/training mix. This, plus a monthly visit from a mobile medical unit, and you would likely have a happy, healthy, housed, working population – on County lands – as opposed to thousands sleeping wherever they can, crowding into soup kitchen lines, tempted to turn to crime or other vices, and despairing while their elected leaders hope for an elusive economic recovery.

Why NOT a multi-faceted green work program which provides inexpensive housing, nutritious food, and access to practical, skills-focused education?  Why shouldn’t a sensitive responsible local government provide in this way for its population, when there are more than 6000 un-sheltered people locally? We must look ahead a couple years at when the federal money will have dried up.

As the numbers of un-sheltered people grows daily, the time has clearly come to think again about various kinds of public-private work programs, and transitional housing on public lands.  Historically, county-funded, self-supporting farms have been a very low-cost and compassionate way to address growing unemployment and homelessness. Why not establish “economic green zones,” wherein we might cultivate public-private partnerships, offering every manner of tax incentive and perhaps subsidies to encourage development of green businesses which would employ and house otherwise homeless people at low cost?

Since February of this year, the little grassroots group of which I am a member –  the “G.R.O.W.S.” Initiative (Green Residential Oregon Work Sites) — has been advocating for the development of green work and training communities for local citizens currently without jobs or shelter. GROWS has conducted over 300 interviews during this brief period, and we are convinced that there is strong, growing interest among unsheltered local citizens in opportunities for self-support which would also offer shelter, food and education.

We believe that there should be various kinds of these “green economic development communities,” because there is a diverse homeless population with a wide range of needs. Some green-work/training communities would be more protective (women with children, battered wives, etc.), while others would be more highly disciplined and recovery-focused (addicts, the mentally ill, etc.), while still others would be more highly functioning and capable not only of providing for themselves, but also of giving something back to society.

Some of the California ‘homeless gardening communities’ have developed charitable ventures of their own – giving from their surpluses to their local Food Banks and pantry programs. A highly functioning green work community could generate an income stream and might even begin paying their resident-workers a regular stipend — in addition to housing, food and some kind of basic medical.

I want to encourage the Commissioners to visit the GROWS Initiative website for ideas about green work and training communities. There are links there to many successful communities which are today helping thousands of formerly homeless workers to find dignity through self-support.

Thank you,

— David R.

The GROWS Initiative

———- end of Letter to the County Commissioners ————————


Letter to Margaret Van Vliet, Portland’s new Housing Bureau Director (06-29-09):

David R.
Portland, Oregon

June 29, 2009

Margaret Van Vliet
Housing Director

Bureau of Housing and Community Development
Portland, Oregon

Dear Ms. Van Vliet,

Congratulations on your appointment to our City’s Housing post! As you know, you have a very challenging job ahead of you — with the uncertainty of ongoing budget constraints, and a fast growing population of citizens unable to afford any form of housing. My friends and I have confidence in you, though, as we are aware of your ability to be pragmatic and resourceful. As homelessness is fast increasing locally, we are hoping the best for you there at Portland’s Bureau of Housing and Community Development.

So many good things have already been done through your Bureau. I want to thank Commissioner Fish for his efforts to make housing vouchers for veterans more available, and applaud his efforts at continued high funding for your Bureau. My friends and I wish that traditional HUD housing approaches would be enough, but we are concerned that such high levels of federal funding will  ‘dry up’ in the coming years of your watch at Housing.

Recently I was invited by Sally Erickson of the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness (CCEH) to take part in discussions about alternative policies concerning the fast growing homeless population in Portland. The CCEH’s “Alternatives Committee” is planning to meet July 9th. My hope is that we will there consider such low and no income housing alternatives as are discussed below, and that such discussions will continue regularly.

As a member of a new Portland grassroots organization called, “The GROWS Initiative,”  (formerly ‘Committee for the Development of Residential Work Sites for Green Training in Agriculture and Economics’),  I have been studying policy alternatives, and having consulted with many experts, we firmly believe that housing and green jobs can be inexpensively created by organizing those experiencing homeless into therapeutic, work and education-focused communities. This could most affordably be done on public lands now held idle by our local governments. We propose that such communities employ residents in gardening and other green-work projects, as is now being done in other parts of the country. We have been busy for about five months now, trying to start a discussion about these issues here in Portland.

You may remember a few weeks ago, at your public introductory meeting with Nick Fish at City Hall, you were asked by Jean DeMaster about your ideas pertaining to providing housing for people/ households which are at or below 30% of median income.  I also spoke at that meeting, asking that you, ‘please consider lower-cost housing options’  – i.e., engineering which would employ reused materials, donated labor, and alternative architectural designs which stress low-cost materials, and low ecological-impact.

As you likely know, there is within the City’s Bureau of Development Services a helpful group  called the Alternative Technology Advisory Committee (ATAC), which is made up of (volunteer) engineers whose job it is to consider applications for alternative building methods. The ATAC can verify, and recommend for the City’s approval, various low-cost alternative structures and designs — including some which are considerably less expensive than the norm.

These housing design methods could include the use of earth bags, cob, or straw bale elements, among others. Properly designed and built, such dwellings are ecologically sound, strong, durable, clean and livable.  Moreover, the inhabitants of such simple houses would be taught by experts to help in the ongoing maintenance of their own dwellings. There are several other sustainability-focused grassroots groups locally which are also working to promote alternative housing approaches.

If simple housing, with green work available on-site, were established locally,  you could think of this as ‘transitional housing’ — to help poorer folks until such time as traditional housing is developed (or somehow made available from among existing housing). So the goal would be to help participants for a period of perhaps one to three years, allowing time for more traditional housing to be developed. Model communities such as ‘The Homeless Garden Project’ in Santa Cruz, CA, usually require one to three year commitments of their participants — time enough to gain valuable new working skills before ‘graduating’ into the mainstream economy.

My friends and I are hopeful, Margaret, that you will be true to your reputation for being able to “think outside the box” when it comes to “housing” definitions –  and about public spending proposals for low-cost alternative home designs.  While the ongoing commitment of Portland City government to low cost housing is praiseworthy, as you know, the number of low (and no) income housing units still needed in order for our City to reach its Housing and Ten Year Plan goals is enormous. This is especially so, given the severe increase in need which is expected in the coming years as jobless numbers rise.  We believe that in simplifying and expanding your Bureau’s definition of ‘good housing,’ you will be able to provide affordable housing to far more poor people, far sooner.

By the way, on the subject of ‘green work,’ we do feel that Multnomah County’s new C.R.O.P.S. program is an excellent idea. Giving food directly to the Food Bank reinforces Portland’s Food Security and Access efforts (Food Policy Council, et al), even while giving also helps the health of our homeless neighbors through simple nutrition. This in turn helps to maintain safer public health generally. What’s missing from that program, we feel is on-site housing for poorer workers.

I did speak with Commissioner Cogen last month about these issues. I continue to believe that ongoing criticisms about the cost of CROPS (versus the cost of buying same amounts of food on the open market) could be addressed effectively by simply adding housing and work/ training elements to a CROPS-like program.  If highly cooperative programs between City and County were developed — focusing on housing and green work/ training for willing, indigent participants in CROPS-like programs — we believe then that locally we could (at minimum) house and feed nearly every person in need. Especially if times get much worse, there may be no other way to approach a goal of ‘affordable housing for all’ — other than through such a return to the basics of simple, low-cost, barter-oriented economy.

In the coming weeks, I will be helping to write various policy proposals for projects which involve combining housing with green work and educational programs for our un-housed neighbors locally. We will be offering these policy proposals to you directly — for your consideration at the Housing Office. These same policy proposals will also be submitted to Sally Erickson of the CCEH, to Commissioner Fish, to the rest of the City Council, and to County representatives. We hope that you will give our recommendations your consideration, and we invite you to communicate further with us on these or other related issues.

Thank you for reading, and please pardon this long e-mail!  Best of luck to you  in your important new position.

Homeless But For the Love of Friends,

— Dave R.

citizen advocate

And soon at our new website at .

Copies to: Nick Fish, Sam Chase, Sally Erickson, Jean DeMaster, Mayor Adams, Amanda Fritz, Carmen Rubio, Jeff Cogen, Marissa Madrigal, Beckie Lee, and The GROWS Initiative.

————————– (end of Letter to Van Vliet) ————————


Letter to Jeff Cogen,  Multnomah County Commissioner (06-02-09):

David R.
Portland, Oregon

June 2, 2009

Commissioner Jeff Cogen
Multnomah County Building
501 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR 97214

Dear Commissioner Cogen,

I am so glad that you are in the habit of reading your constituents’ e-mails at your Office. When I sent that a few days ago, honestly, I was thinking it would be ineffective, as it had apparently been with a few other local leaders (who shall remain nameless). I was planning to send a letter and then call, and hoped that eventually we would have a discussion as refreshing  as that which I had with you by phone this afternoon.

Many of our local leaders are looking at wrong numbers – either over or under stated, or else all about money. The real NET numbers would be POSITIVE if we would dare to develop green-working-therapeutic communities for the homeless and jobless among us. Other such green-work-communities have proven that recovery, better health and more lawful behavior all result among program participants (which our RWS Committee would term “resident-workers”).   As a result of a well organized program(s), there should be lowered rates of crime, and of domestic abuse, along with better nutrition, more skilled workers, and possibly a re-greening of the earth.

I’m afraid I am not sure how to best accomplish this on a larger scale than the status quo folks are going to want to have time for. Maybe we would only be able to draw in and successfully house and train a certain percentage of the homeless population. I don’t know. But I think we have to try to make it work for as many as are willing to work. Certainly we would first need to carefully plan a ‘Pilot Project’ community — both in order to learn how to best do this, and to convince other policy-makers of the many human benefits and economic efficiencies of a combined ‘green-work with housing’ approach.

Please do take the time, Jeff, to read a few of the articles I have posted at our young website, all of which I have written (excepting reader contributions, so noted).   Then if when we meet, we will have more choices about what to talk about.  If you want to carry the ball on this issue, we would be very much behind you! Should you go a different course, we will nonetheless appreciate your CROPS program.

Should you want attempt a green-work/training-for-homeless project approach, please consider whether you might want to consult our Committee. I would be happy to help in your pilot project planning or policy making. As I told you, I would prefer to be an obscure writer, as I am not well-suited for politics.

In this short four month old effort to “start the conversation” here locally, I fear I may have already ruffled some feathers locally. Real systemic change is scary to long-time politicians and agency bureaucrats!  It may well be to your ‘political advantage’ to develop altogether your own green-work-for-homeless initiative. You clearly know how to get radical things done – with or without grassroots novices like me.

Whatever course you decide upon, I believe you will find allies locally left and right (politically speaking as well) in this effort. In the last four short months, I have spoken about this idea and consulted with experts in homelessness, public health, permaculture, agriculture, economics, government, green community development, and even the Gospels. I have also spoken with at least 300 homeless individuals and families. Nearly all of them think that efficiently combining green jobs and housing programs is a good idea, even if they don’t always like dealing with bureaucracies, or my personality!

You will find lots of cooperation offers in this, I predict. Gardeners and permaculturalists (such as myself) will especially want to help you.  The more difficult task – I believe – will be gently but firmly convincing a whole lot of status-quo bureaucrats that a very non-traditional approach is needed. Most just don’t yet seem to have the time for ‘another committee’ unless or until it shows itself in the newspapers to be a success. I believe you could do it, actually.

Here attached are a few document files – each a letter sent to a member of the Portland City Council recently. (note: letters to Leonard and Saltzman are essentially the same as the one to Fritz) Letters have also been sent by our Committee to faculty at O.S.U. and P.S.U. concerning their involvement in sustainable agriculture, community development and education. E-mails have also been exchanged. I will make most of those available to you when we meet in person, if you would like to see them.

I have a first meeting scheduled for this Friday, by the way, with Sally Erickson, who is the City’s Staff Director for the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness (CCEH). Wish me luck! If you would like to sit in on our next meeting, I would be glad to arrange that.

Have a good week. I hope to meet with you soon.

David R.
Committee for the Development of Residential Work Sites for Green Training in Agriculture and Economics (R.W.S.)

P.S. –  By the way We love C.R.O.P.S.!! I’ll make up some bumper stickers if you like. Seriously – thank you — on behalf of all who are aware of the growing need for improved nutrition among the poor, as well as strategic food security issues, THANK you for your foresight in developing that program.

———————–( end of Letter to Cogen) ——————————-


Letter to City Commissioner Nick Fish re/ need for green working communities (05-26-09):

Note: The City of Portland’s Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness (CCEH) is administered through the City’s Bureau of Housing and Community Development (BHCD), which is now under the leadership of Commissioner Nick Fish.

Below is a recent letter which one of our members sent to Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, explaining our vision of creating lots of green jobs, low-cost housing, and improved food security for houseless people in the Portland area. We want to encourage those reading here to consider also writing to Nick in favor of local ‘homeless gardening projects.’  Similar letters were sent also to Commissioners Saltzman, Leonard, and Fritz, and to Mayor Adams.


David R., RWS Committee
Portland, OR

May 26, 2009

Nick Fish
City Commissioner

1221 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 240
Portland, Oregon 97204

Dear Nick Fish,

(first paragraph omitted by author)

First, I would like to thank you again (as I did publicly at the ‘Sit/Lie hearings’ of a few weeks ago) for your ongoing desire to bring help to the fast growing number of mentally ill and addicted souls among our local homeless neighbors.  Homelessness, as you know, is fast increasing — at a time when the best of economists are forecasting mostly shrinking local budgets.  I believe that as Christians we must be willing to take bold new steps to protect those who clearly are unable to care for themselves.

I am member of a new committee locally which is, for now, a bit of a combined ‘think tank’ and conversation starter.  We are a grassroots group which grew out of the ‘Portland Town Hall’ meetings (beginning in January of this year). We have been networking and organizing — if a bit haphazardly — in an effort to bring some real change to Portland’s treatment of the homeless, while at the same time we are trying to prepare for a new green economy.

We are called the Committee for the Development of Residential Work Sites for Green Training in Agriculture and Economics ( or ‘RWS’), and we are trying to help  start a conversation among local policy makers and service providers about the idea of developing local therapeutic communities for the homeless.

We are also trying to foster the necessary cooperation within and among City Bureaus, as well as other government agencies and charitable service providers, to make possible the development of several such communities.  We are also planning a pilot project community here in the Portland area which will be modeled roughly after ‘The Homeless Garden Project’ of Santa Cruz, CA.  If you are not aware of this Project, please see, . There is also the good local example of ‘Blanchet Farm’, , whose ‘green work’ + 12 Step community near Newberg, OR, has seen a remarkably high rate of recovery for many formerly homeless addicts.

Our goal is to help the homeless by giving them — not just food (which we would want to teach them to grow for themselves), and not just housing (which we would teach them to help build for themselves), but also by giving them the opportunity of learning new green-oriented job skills of many kinds, and the opportunity to be productive and self-supportive.  Workers would be allowed to live on-site and thereby be able to form communities which would be carefully governed.

We believe that oversight of these communities should be carried out through self-government by the formerly homeless resident-workers themselves, as guided by a steering committee made up of experts in permaculture (sustainable agriculture and  low-impact, appropriate technologies), education, community development, and social work. The steering committee’s oversight should be in close cooperation with local government agencies and charitable service providers.

Such ‘homeless gardening communities’ would give of their surpluses (which could include non-agricultural products as well) to local charitable programs which would further help the poor. This privilege of ‘giving something back’ can further help cure many homeless individuals by giving them a sense of self worth, of belonging, and even perhaps of a higher calling. It has been shown to help lift people out of the despair which may have perpetuated their homelessness. These communities might also be able to sell some of their products in farmers markets or through charitably focused marketing groups — in order to move closer to true self-support.

A central component of any good ‘green work community’ would be education. We believe that resident-workers should have the opportunity to be ‘on-the-job’ students. Each might have the ability to become certified in some way, in green-focused skill sets of various kinds — allowing for a ‘graduation’ from their therapeutic community, back into mainstream economy. There are various existing educational programs which might be helpful in this.

As for where such communities might be located, our Committee is suggesting that self-sustaining, well-governed communities might be established on public lands now held idle by City (or County or other) governments locally.  We believe that this would be in the public interest because the well-planned development of such communities would create:

1) green jobs for the homeless, plus

2) very inexpensive housing for this same population, plus

3) food production (and sharing) by and for this same population, plus

4) an excellent use of taxpayer dollars, given the cost of such programs traditionally.

In an effort to affordably give the dignity of self-support to as many homeless participants as are willing to work, we hope that you will help us, Nick, to get the attention of the rest of the City Council and the County in this matter. There have  already been offers of assistance from faculty at Portland State University and Oregon State University.

This is the focus of our Committee. Feel free to tell us (as everyone already has) that the name of our new Committee is too long. We know it isn’t catchy, but for now our name tells what our purpose is, and that can be helpful. We invite you to dialogue

Jobless and Homeless but for the love of friends,

— David R.


Committee for the Development of Residential Work Sites for Green Training in Agriculture and Economics (RWS)

—————-( end of Letter to Nick Fish) ———————————-

They're  not laughing at us NOW

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mike Luckovich, 'The Atlanta Journal'


****** ********* ****** ******** ******** *********** ********** ******


Addresses and Phone Numbers for our City and County Leaders:

Our Portland City Council:

Mayor Sam Adams
(has authority to allow additional tent cities)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 340
Portland, OR 97204

Commissioner Nick Fish
(in charge of Housing, and the “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness”)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 240
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 823-3589

Commissioner Amanda Fritz
(helps administer CLEAN/SAFE Program)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 220
Portland, OR 97204

Commissioner Randy Leonard
(in charge of Public Safety)
Position Number 4
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 210, 97204

Commissioner Dan Saltzman
(in charge of Police, Public Relations)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 230
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 823-4151

The Multnomah County Commissioners:


The Washington County Commissioners:

The Clackamas County Commissioners:

Our Metro Council:


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Thank you for reading, and thinking.

Please contact your elected officials about the need for work, training and housing programs for our homeless neighbors!

This message brought to you by:
The GROWS Initiative (Green Residential Oregon Work Sites)
P.O. Box 3482 Portland, OR 97208


4 Responses to “Recent Letters: ideas for discussion with our local leaders…”

  1. olivia said

    Hello There-

    Just got a chance to read over a lot of your information…I would love to know if you folks meet regularly or if you have meetings open to new people…I have been working on trying to get rid of the sit/lie and feel that we may be close to the end of that battle and feel the next logical step is to get rid of the anti-camping and/or create alternatives…last year we proposed “green zones” to Nick Fish and he was interested but it then got pushed under the rug…anyway I am rambling, but would love to know how to get involved with what you are doing. Thanks so much.

  2. Hi Olivia. SoapboxUndertheBridge is great! Yes, I do remember teh excellent demonstrations of last year in favor of ‘Green Zones.’ We are appalled by the slowness and insensitivity of our local ‘leaders’, and we encourage all readers to personally write, call, and visit them with renewed determination. So far, City leaders are only talking about curbing enforcement of the anti-camping law, without any apparent effort to facilitate low-cost sustainable encampments or work programs. Given the scale of this unfolding crisis, we believe that there need to be sustainable, government facilitated ‘Poor Farms’ again — with onsite housing and a healthy green skills training/certification focus.

  3. treeclimbers2 said

    Dig’y Dude,
    Local jobs programs would be awesome. I can think of a hundred local public works projects that would be helpful to the homeless AND the next generation. Is it me, or do our public servants seem awful stuck in the business-as-usual way of doing things?
    Chris & Mel

  4. d w said

    interesting. did you know that the original “migrant farm workers” were americans from mainly oklahoma in the depression in california? they weren’t mexicans. they did live in camps on or near the farms with their families. they were harassed and mistreated as well. then we got roosevelt and the welfare programs. but you see, the programs have become corrupt and gentrified. now you can get subsidized housing when you are middle class- a family making 63,000 or more per year.This is the problem. and a few other bad regulations. Get the regulations to reflect the true needs of those that the programs were designed for. then the needy will get the subsidized housing rather than the middle class.

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