Last month, as many as 30 people who lived in an Olympia homeless encampment each received an early holiday gift: a new home.
On Christmas Eve, 29 people moved into Quixote Village, a permanent supportive housing community comprised of 30 one-person
cottages. Each cottage measures 155 sq. ft. and comes with an indoor
toilet and sink as well as a front porch. The 2.2-acre village also has a 2,700 sq. ft. community center equipped with showers, a full kitchen and meeting rooms. Quixote Village is located at 3350 Mottman Rd. SW. in Tumwater.
Tim Ransom, board president of Panza, the nonprofit that runs Quixote Village, said the new housing community is the result of an effort that began almost seven years ago. In February 2007, a band of homeless people occupied an Olympia parking lot.
Local authorities cleared the camp, and a church stepped up to host the protestors. Opposition to the camp was strong, said Ransom, so protestors and church leaders came up with a plan: “We began a process of convincing ourselves and the powers that be that a camp was needed.”
At the time, campers believed any attempts to sway public opinion were naïve. Residents christened themselves Camp Quixote, a reference to the hero of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s early 17th century novel, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.” In it, Don Quixote embarks on what his detractors call a fool-hearted journey — he tilted, or jousted, at windmills, mistaking them for giants — in an effort to return chivalry to a topsy-turvy world. His sidekick, Sancho Panza, served as the namesake for the nonprofit that supports the camp.
Every three to six months, the camp had to relocate to a different church, so in 2011, campers began an effort to find more permanent housing. A fundraising drive brought in grants from state and local housing agencies, along with donations from the Nisqually and Chehalis tribes. Architects drew up blueprints for the cottages.
Ransom said organizers of the camp, renamed Quixote Village, raised $3.1 million to pay for construction. The village will pay Thurston County $1 a year throughout the duration of its 40-year lease. The federal government dictates the village must have one cottage per resident.
Jon Colt had hoped to live in one. A former three-year resident of the camp, he was offered a subsidized apartment right before residents moved into the new cottages.
“I’m a little bit envious,” he said.
Colt said it’s not that he doesn’t enjoy his apartment. What was special about living with other campers, he said, was the camaraderie. When an issue came up, everyone worked to solve it. He also enjoyed the self-governance model used at the camp, where all residents were responsible for decisions and maintained security details.
He said when he visits old friends at Quixote Village, people light up when they speak of their new cottages. There’s something special about the community, Colt said, and a familial sense of pride permeates the new village.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing,” he said.