Proposal for Simple, Low-Cost Transitional Housing with Green Work Opportunities for the Poor in Portland

Ok, we already know that Gardening is a healthy activity in so many ways…

It’s also a fact that good health depends upon the basics of housing and work.

Health through Housing:

low cost housing is the way to go

low cost housing is the way to go

Housing is a first step in restoring a lost sense of dignity, and makes it more likely that a person will be able to work efficiently.  Many recent studies have been completed which show how providing housing can raise the rate of recovery from mental illness and addiction.

Housing the poor means they’re likely going to get seriously ill far less often, which lowers the risk of epidemics  in the general population as well. Housing more people can help to lower the costs of emergency room and health care visits generally, because housed people tend to need emergency care far less often. This in turn can lead to lower insurance premiums and greatly lowered, publicly-funded reimbursement costs for medical services.

See this recent article by the American Medical Association:
Success stories are common – where health is i
mproved and public health care costs go down – among those newly housed:

Housing more un-sheltered people also makes for lower crime rates (including trespass, theft, and domestic violence). Lower stress levels and less desperation generally leads to more stable employment and greater productivity.

This notion that “housing first” is the best, most efficient approach to helping the homeless is well accepted these days, actually. The difficult part is trying to get local Housing Bureaus and housing-focused agencies to think in terms of LOW-cost housing instead of high-cost housing. Only by trying lower cost approaches can we begin to house record numbers of un-sheltered people.


sustainable, ecological, affordable home building is superior to the overly-expensive multi-million $ housing projects of the status quo

You can house a LOT more homeless people using an approach involving straw bales and ‘Habitat for Humanity’-type volunteers,  than you can with the preferred multi-million dollar ‘new buildings and high-cost-case-management’ approach.  Simple is better!!! Simple is the answer.  But good luck convincing entrenched, local administrators of high-dollar-government-programs of that!

Still, we must try. Straw bale home options are among the most economical. Properly built and maintained, they are safe, warm and dry. See, . Conventional construction can be very economical too, so long as it is small scale and simple.  Especially if plumbing and high voltage electrical features are left out — in favor of building a “common house” or “kitchen & utilities pavilion,” which would be shared by all members of the community.

Health through Green Work:

gardening is just one kind of green work

gardening is just one kind of green work

What is sorely lacking among service providers who want to feed and house the poor these days is the willingness or ability to also provide opportunities for self-support.

Unfortunately the economy is tanking, and there will be only limited amounts of federal money infused to help create jobs here locally.  For many reasons, we must develop more local green work programs.

Even if it is just part-time work, e.g. maintaining their own buildings, or growing some of their own food, asking something back from them can give them a needed sense of self-worth  like nothing else can.  Those who are in recovery from addiction, or struggling with mental illness, or with a disability might perhaps be less high functioning, but there is always some practical thing that could be asked of them for their own sake. Most would gladly work if work were available. And work (in moderation) is therapeutic!

Especially where training and skills certification are offered, often times work can help to cure depression — even after years of low self-esteem. See NAMI’s report on integrated studies on how mental health problems are better supported among those who are employed:

Invasive species removal crew

County-funded seasonal programs across the U.S. have employed thousands in invasive species removal, trails development, etc. Mobile crews generally receive housing, meals and stipends for part time work.

Beyond just room and board, a properly organized and well-networked, green working community might also generate an income stream for formerly homeless workers, which raises their standard of living and gives them real dignity.


Work Programs that Work…

garden 5

One great program which gives work and shelter to the homeless in a farm setting is The Farm at Long Island Shelter, administered by Friends of Boston’s Homeless. Since 1987 this organization has been helping to house, educate and transition the homeless  toward self-support.

This program works closely with the Boston Public Health Commission and the  City of Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission.


Here you can read about Growing Home – a Chicago nonprofit which runs an organic agriculture business, providing job training and connections for homeless people:

Read about The Garden Project – a San Francisco nonprofit providing former prisoners with counseling while helping them to grow food for seniors and low income families:

Community Housing Partnership of San Fransisco is another great work program for the homeless. It is not a ‘green work’ program per se, but it is helping hundreds to leave the streets:

Health through Community itself:

community among workers is a natural outgrowth of green work

community among green workers is a natural outgrowth of that side by side cooperation

Finally of course, the beauty of intentional green work/training communities of any kind is the potential for that a sense of belonging that comes through living in community.  In an atmosphere of mutual respect and collective learning,  a well-governed community that provides opportunities for self-support for its residents is good for everyone.  Well-governed, disciplined community is especially good for those in recovery from addiction or mental illness.

Please notice that it is not true that “most homeless people are lazy or drug addicted or dumb” or anything bad. What a terrible mis-perception! What an excuse to not help! In fact, some of the wisest people we have ever spoken with are homeless.

Simplicity, they know, is their friend. While some people will resist community (socialization, sharing, work), most will not resist but embrace it!

Most commonly, what the broad range of people experiencing homelessness tend to have in common is wounded pride or perhaps an understandable (and most curable) depression and/or fatigue over being rejected so often by those who are housed or employed. Among the newly homeless, being without work can hurt ones pride deeply, because they want to be self-supporting.

Those who have found community through green work/ training  residential projects are often profoundly grateful that they have been given the opportunity to be housed, and to work toward self-support, and for the sense of belonging that happens among gardeners (or any group working day to day together).

Work of any kind, but most especially green work (low impact, local economy), when done in community, can help to make the community better. There is a cohesion and a sense of loyalty that comes from working together. In fact, work is good for everyone,  if so long as the work is sustainable and performed in moderation.

An excellent website telling about the growth of all kinds of intentional communities in the U.S. and Canada (and the world) is that of the “Fellowship of Intentional Communities” (FIC), found at . Among the many hundreds of diverse communities described there, there are several communities which are especially for homeless people.

______________Ok, so  let’s sum it up. . . ________________

Green Work + Housing + Community

= Education + Therapy + Productivity

= Efficient Compassionate.

(note what’s missing from our governments’ current approach is the part about GREEN WORK)

One might ask,

HOW .  .  . community garden in the making


HOW can we create jobs and housing without huge outlays of capital or ongoing public subsidies?


HOW, with an economy and tax base that are shrinking?

(There is no panacea, but one simple, sure approach is immediately affordable:)

Sustainable farming and other green work programs

(gardening, conservation projects, renovations, other micro-businesses)

where workers are offered:

simple, low-cost on-site housing

(with shared common spaces, resources)


opportunities for skills-training certification,

to take place on idle public lands, and/or in otherwise vacant public buildings.

— that’s how!

Use what ya got! These are OUR public lands and buildings. Ground-up economic development of this kind would be better than waiting around for some elusive ‘trickle-down’ help. There are too many jobless homeless citizens today, looking for jobs that aren’t there.

Local governments CAN make this happen.

The math says: we need WORK programs and LOWER-cost-housing for the homeless.

IF local policymakers would COMBINE

green work and low-cost housing programs

with food access and nutrition programs,

– then –

the public costs of helping more of our poorest neighbors (toward self-support) would become much more affordable.

More specifically, if the local city councils, 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.


“Synergy” (from the Greek syn-ergos, συνεργός meaning ‘working together’) is the term used to describe a situation where different entities cooperate advantageously for a final outcome. Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Please – let’s write our local leaders and encourage them to think more about creating part-time work programs with inexpensive housing options as part of the ‘pay.’

Offering “room, board and a stipend for part time work” would be quite affordable.



and Thanks for reading,

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

(Green Residential Oregon Work Sites)

P.O. Box 3482 * Portland, OR 97208

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
among the model communities out there…
The ‘Homeless Garden Project’ in Santa Cruz, CA is among the west coast’s model communities. That green-work community has been employing formerly homeless people for about 18 years already. They generate community income in a variety of ways, including through sales at its popular little store.  See,
The 'Homeless Garden Project' in Santa Cruz, CA  is among our models.  That green-work community has been employing formerly homeless people for 18 years there. They generate community income in a variety of ways, including through sales at its popular little store.
residents at the Santa Cruz community find fulfllment in their work

Residents at the Santa Cruz community find fulfillment in their work.


Click here to go to our HOME Page


One Response to “Green Work +Shelter +Community”

  1. Greg in Salem said

    This is right on! From my own experience, I can say that gardening with neighbors at our community garden has helped me to be less angry. I used to not even know any of my neighbors until we began gardening together this past summer. It has made for new friendships. I also have lost weight and feel better because I’ve been eating way more vegies (which I always intended to do, but wasn’t doing until I started gardening). Anyway I hope that a sustainable farm for the homeless is developed here because it would be good for them too. Thanks.

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