Shanty Town revisited

dignityvillageClick on image to enlarge

During the Depression years of 1939-1941, I remember seeing an unusual group of shacks on the bank of the Connecticut River north of Springfield, Mass. I was as curious then as I am now and I wanted to know what this was. Dad told me it was Shanty Town, while Mother called it Hooverville.

It was built by desperate and resourceful people who had lost their homes and jobs and had no place to live.

As I recall, Shanty Town stood there for several years, mute evidence of the severe economic dislocation of that era just before World War II. There were many of these shanty towns in every state. People lived there and found what work they could until the economy recovered.

There has been some effort over the years to prevent this level of social and economic dislocation from reoccurring. It may have been successful in the main, because breadlines and shanty towns are not everyday sights. When economic dislocation occurs now, it is usually localized, but it is as painful and humiliating as ever to become homeless after being a productive worker.

I know of no magic bullet for poverty. The paths of recovery are as varied as the original causes. I do know that if someone is allowed to work out of this situation, they are more likely to emerge with their dignity and self-respect intact. That is what happened in many shanty towns of the late 1930’s and is why I was intrigued by a modern version of shanty town, Dignity Village near Portland, OR.

I read their fascinating account of their efforts to help themselves and other homeless people through self-government and by developing their own version of affordable housing. As I see it, it is kind of a Habitat for Humanity by the homeless and should be encouraged. The good people of Portland seem to think so too. It will be well worth following and learning all we can. This problem is not going away.

Thanks to Fred for leading me to this.

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