National media cover village for homeless

Staff writerFebruary 26, 2014 

A new homeless community in Olympia has attracted national media attention as a template for projects across the country.

With 30 tiny cottages on a 2.17-acre campus, Quixote Village opened for homeless residents last Christmas Eve. Each free-standing cottage measures 144 square feet with a bed, half-bathroom, closet, front porch, heating, plumbing and electricity. A community center offers mailboxes, showers, a laundry room and a kitchen.

The New York Times and MSNBC have recently reported on Quixote Village. A news crew from Al Jazeera America arrived at the village Tuesday, and Diane Sawyer with ABC World News was scheduled to visit Wednesday.

“We never dreamed it would be this sudden or this huge,” said Jill Severn, board member for Panza, a nonprofit organization that led the effort to build the village and now serves as its landlord.

Although grateful for the media coverage, Severn said the cottages represent only one component in helping the homeless reach self-sufficiency. Many residents at Quixote Village have suffered hardships such as substance abuse and mental illness. The biggest obstacle for the homeless, Severn said, is access to mental health and addiction treatment.

“The cottages are visual and they’re adorable and they’re sensible,” she said, “but I wish people would focus more on the causes of homelessness.”

Built for $3.1 million, the new village on Mottman Road helped end the nomadic existence of Camp Quixote, a self-governing tent community that formed in 2007. Since that time, local churches had hosted the camp, which relocated every six months because of city codes.

Quixote Village residents elect officers and decide who lives there. Just as at the old camp, they look after one another.

“Everybody knows everybody,” said resident Sharon Wilson about the tight-knit community. “I have never been treated with anything other than grace and love.”

Two months after moving in, Wilson has turned her cottage into a home. A potted plant sits in a window above her desk, and a multi-colored patchwork quilt adorns the wall next to her twin bed.

“This is the first time I’ve been thoroughly unpacked in 20 years,” said Wilson, who works as the village’s kitchen manager and serves on the executive committee.

Wilson moved a lot as a child and carried her nomadic ways into adulthood. At times, she misses camping in her tent, especially for economic reasons: Quixote Village residents are asked to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, which has put a dent in Wilson’s budget.

However, the cottage comes with a financial upside, she said. Stable housing has reduced the uncertainty that came with planning ahead for the next paycheck, making it easier to manage her money and purchase basic necessities like clothing. The community center’s kitchen allows her to prepare meals at a lower cost than buying fast food.

“Living outside,” she said, “is really expensive.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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