First Advisor

Ellen Skinner

Term of Graduation


Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science: Psychology


Systems Science: Psychology




Alternative housing, Community, Empowerment, Participatory action research, Homelessness -- Social aspects, Self-help housing -- Oregon -- Portland, Cooperative Housing -- Oregon -- Portland -- Citizen participation



Physical Description

1 online resource (xii, 480 pages)


With homelessness continuing to rise over the past two decades, disenfranchised unhoused people have sparked a national movement to build for themselves democratically governed communities of affordable housing. Dignity Village, in Portland Oregon, is one of the longest running and most organized self-help housing communities in the nation. This paper presents a theoretical systems-based model of a developmental pathway out of homelessness in the U.S. that has as one of its key steps membership and participation in humane and dignified "self-help micro-housing"; communities such as Dignity Village.

This research involved working collaboratively with Dignity Village on a participatory action research (PAR) project aimed at understanding and facilitating processes for mobilizing community and socio-political engagement. The research process involved a team of up to 24 co-researchers (nine attended meetings regularly) working once weekly over 15 months, with consultation from the broader Village community throughout. The research followed a systems approach to creating five action tools as multiple points of leverage to create long-term positive change within the community. One point of leverage utilized participatory video methodology to co-create a video action tool as an orientation video for newcomers, intended to build cooperative relationships and facilitate empowerment within the community. The impact of the research process was documented on multiple levels in the community using multiple data sources.

Data were analyzed using an inductive approach to identify key themes and processes that influenced participation and empowerment in the community. The predominant themes suggested three paradoxical tensions that were creating barriers to change in the community. This PAR process attempted to create movement beyond these barriers. Findings suggested that four main changes occurred in the community during and after the research: a) an increase in collaborative participation, b) enhanced engagement and sense of community, c) an emergence of critical consciousness, and d) changes in the organizational leadership/power structure.

These findings are critically examined and discussed with respect to the effectiveness of utilizing this PAR process to facilitate community empowerment. A portion of this dissertation (Results section) was created in video format to enhance report accessibility for community partners and other non-academic audiences.


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Chapter 8: Introduction to Visual Results is available online.

DVDs are also available for check-out at the PSU Library Circulation Desk.

Persistent Identifier

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