By Lisa Loving, NE Coalition

Rachelle Dixon is a visionary who gets things done: Hot meal programs, community gardening, political campaigns and more. The pandemic shut down some of her projects, but Dixon has a new one: Opened Doors PDX, a mutual-aid program bringing tiny houses and refurbished motorhomes to uhoused people who can benefit from services including conviction expungement, drug treatment or job training.

And you can help out too! Opened Doors needs anyone who can rehab an RV, donate an RV or contribute resources to get these things done.

Hey Neighbor! spoke with Dixon about how it all works, what is needed and how Northeast Portland can be rebuilt beyond the ongoing housing crisis.

Hey Neighbor!: Tell us about Opened Doors. Why did you start it? What do you do?

Rachelle Dixon: I had this thought in my mind. What would be an immediate response to houselessness? 

So recently, due to Covid, I needed a temporary place to stay. I was in the process of acquiring my tiny home, which hadn’t been completely finished. I went ahead and purchased a little camper that I could stay in, so I could isolate because of my pre-existing health conditions.

I painted it and I started getting it ready. But by the time I got it ready, my Covid threat was over. And I was like, Oh, okay. So now I have a little camper. Maybe I can pass it along to someone? And it reminded me of the idea I had a year and a half ago about putting people in tiny homes, or in ADUs (accessory dwelling units), in the run up to getting them into permanent housing. ADUs are too expensive, but you can put a tiny house on wheels on any RV pad, and that can happen much more quickly than you can get someone into permanent housing. And so I thought, yeah, that’s what I’m going to do. So I did it. 

HN!: How does it work? 

RD: It’s a program about getting people into long-term housing by taking care of their immediate needs. So when the participants agree to the tiny home situation, they’re also agreeing to spend some time in their community, volunteering or working or going to school or taking care of their medical needs.

Now that’s a little different than other situations, because most people don’t consider going to school as a social service. Programs often want to rush you into a $7.25 or $10 an hour job, depending on where you live, that’s going to keep you permanently in turmoil. So this is about giving people the opportunity and the time to resolve the issues and clear the barriers to long-term housing. Is there a barrier because they don’t have transportation, because they have traffic tickets and lost a driver’s license? Well, here’s the path to getting your driver’s license back so you can have more stability on your job. 

Is the problem that they had a prior eviction or a low credit score? A criminal background? We help them with expungement, so they will actually get the expungement at no cost to them. They will get credit counseling at no cost to them. They will get their rental history recorded. So yes, it’s a hand up, not a hand out. 

HN!: How can people plug in and support the work? 

RD: One is if you have an RV that’s on wheels, that maybe is not in the greatest condition? And you think, well, I could sell it for a little bit? You could also donate it. And if you donate it, we’ll rehab it and pass it along to someone who could use it. So that’s one of the ways that people can help if they want to support. The first few campers that I bought, I paid for out of my own pocket. So in order to continue to help folk, we’re going to need some support in terms of paying for these trailers.

And that’s the other important thing I need to say: This is not a governmental solution. This is community helping community. The highest percentage of unhoused families is Black families; statistically it’s about 40 percent nationwide.  We have a huge amount of inequity. What drives houselessness is inequity. 

And when you hear 40 percent, you might think it sounds high because you don’t see those numbers on the street. But when we’re talking housing insecurity and the helplessness, it’s not just people you see on the street. It is the people who are hiding in their car. It’s the people who are couch surfing. It’s the people who have a hotel for tonight, but they don’t have one for tomorrow.

There are people who don’t have an income. We just have to admit that people who are waiting a year for social security don’t have an income. They just don’t. So that happens to a lot of folks who are disabled. And so I think we need to be building housing for our longer lives, where people are not working as much.

So that’s my thoughts. 

Connect with Dixon at Opened Doors PDX,