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A man I met on an Urban Plunge in Portland, Ore., told me nonchalantly during a conversation that he wasn’t homeless, even though he was planning on sleeping on the streets in his tent that night, just as he had the night and the week and the month before. “Wherever I set up my tent and set my head down is home,” he told me. “I simply don’t have a house.”

I learned during my few days in Portland that the idea of “home” varies based on each person. For some, it’s a warm fireplace, fresh sheets on a bed, and carpeted floors in a cozy house; for others, it’s simply a covering over their heads in their yellow roadside tent. Whatever the case, a “home” allows people to find a community of some sort and to be recognized as a fellow human being. It resonates with the Catholic Social Teaching of finding and upholding the dignity of the human person. The concept of home implies the security and recognition that comes with having your dignity affirmed.

Some of the coolest homes I saw in Portland were in the Right to Dream, Too (R2D2) community. This cluster of tiny homes is run by and open for people experiencing homelessness; essentially, it is a neighborhood of people who formerly lived on the streets, gathered together underneath roofs they can call their own. Local high school clubs built the homes, sourcing materials sustainably and outfitting them with solar panels, and then donated them to the R2D2 community. The city and police give R2D2 autonomy and space—an unusual dynamic between authority and people experiencing homelessness—because they recognize it as a safe and effective alternative to either sleeping in a tent camp or staying in a crowded shelter.

And the people who live in R2D2 love it. They have their own spaces; many of the tiny homes are decorated with murals, bicycles, wind chimes, and other knick knacks. Moreover, they have community. They have neighbors who recognize them and people who say hi each day as they do their chores or go out to the city. With the security of roofs and running water and their dignity affirmed by other community members, those living in R2D2 truly are at home, and that’s a beautiful thing to witness.

To hear more about Urban Plunge: Portland, Ore., check out my post-immersion video.


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