By Andy Hobbs The Olympian
OLYMPIA — On Christmas Eve, Linda Austin admired her new home as she set down a box of belongings.
A couple of years ago, she faced dark and difficult times. That’s when Camp Quixote, a self-governing tent community for the homeless, took Austin under its wing.
The tent camp’s nomadic existence ended Tuesday as residents moved into 30 new cottages at Quixote Village. The project at 3350 Mottman Road SW was years in the making.
In fact, the night before her big move, the excitement kept Austin from sleeping.
“Two years ago, I never thought I’d be here,” she said, admiring her heated cottage from the outside. “It gave me a little hope when I thought there was none.”
Camp Quixote began in 2007 after a protest in downtown Olympia. The founders envisioned a permanent village where the homeless could escape the woods or streets to find safety and warmth.
Residents of this homeless community elect officers and decide who lives there, based on strict criteria. Over the years, local churches have hosted the tent community, which needed to move every six months to comply with municipal codes.
On Tuesday, residents packed boxes and milk crates at the camp’s final temporary site, Westminster Presbyterian Church on Boulevard Road in Olympia. Electrical cords hung among the tarps that partitioned their living quarters, some of which were used just for storage.
For the men and women who need it, Quixote Village offers permanent housing. Each cottage measures 150 square feet and includes a front porch with garden space. Inside, residents have heat, plumbing and electricity — along with a bed, desk, half-bathroom and closet. Everybody gets new sheets and towels. Two of the units accommodate the disabled.
The property’s main clubhouse has a stocked kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, mailboxes and a common seating area with a television and fireplace. Bus service is available nearby. Intercity Transit also donated an eight-passenger van for the village.
Quixote Village is in an industrial area just west of South Puget Sound Community College. Construction broke ground in June.
During the design process, architects met with Camp Quixote residents, who were adamant about building individual free-standing cottages.
“People who are homeless are pretty damn smart about what they need,” said Jill Severn, board member for Panza, the nonprofit organization that mobilized support for the village. “It’s all about the power of a good idea.”
Quixote Village is zoned as permanent supportive housing. The cottages passed inspection Monday. Crews will finish the landscaping and clubhouse in the next couple of weeks, Severn said.
Quixote Village faced legal opposition along the way from landowners and businesses who objected to the site on Mottman Road. The city of Olympia had issued a conditional use permit to allow the village in an industrial zone. A Superior Court judge eventually ruled in favor of Quixote Village.
As the village’s landlord, Panza is leasing the 2.17-acre site from Thurston County at $1 per year for 41 years. Village residents have agreed to pay one-third of their income toward rent.
From permits to construction, the project’s total cost was about $3.1 million.
Severn said Panza’s next challenge is sustaining the village through donations, grants and fundraisers. Panza is named after Sancho Panza, the sidekick and loyal servant of the title character in the Spanish novel “Don Quixote.”
“We work with the homeless people, not on them,” said Severn, noting that the village is one example of helping the homeless reach self-sufficiency. “There are many answers. This is certainly one of them.”