Community’s vision, persistence pay off

June 19, 2013 

The recent groundbreaking for Quixote Village kicked off the final phase of a six-year community effort to move a highly successful homeless encampment into more traditional housing. It’s a noteworthy success for the South Sound community, and a testament to the power of a persistent vision.

What began as an illegal protest over the City of Olympia’s Pedestrian Interference Ordinance in 2007 quickly evolved into a broad-based community collaboration determined to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome.

It wasn’t easy. South Sound cities, Thurston County, area churches and passionate volunteers struggled through old paradigms of homelessness, rewrote local ordinances to enable cities to meet the constitutional rights of churches and overcame numerous concerns about where to site the camp, and later, the village.

But when construction of the village’s 30 small cottages and community center is completed this fall, our community can applaud itself for creating a unique model for addressing homelessness.

Quixote Village defies categorization within the continuum of homeless services because it is not transitional, permanent or emergency shelter. The village is self-governed by a structure created by Camp Quixote residents and supported by Panza, a community-based organization of volunteers.

The village is on property owned and donated by Thurston County within Olympia’s city limits. Some expressed concerns about the Mottman Road site, but it made sense to put the village on a site controlled by a public entity, with minimal impact on homeowners, and with access to Intercity Transit.

And let’s credit the surprising self-governance of the Camp Quixote residents themselves.

During its years of existence — moving every 90 days among the handful of churches in Lacey and Olympia that have generously taken turns hosting the camp — the camp has experienced little crime or violence. There have been almost no calls for police services, which contrasts the experience of other encampments.

Local law enforcement has praised Camp Quixote’s success at self-governance and the camp’s strict code of conduct. Although each person applying to reside in Camp Quixote has to pass a background check, there is a two-year wait list.

All these years of experience show that Camp Quixote has benefited the South Sound community. The homeless have had a safe place to sleep and many of the one-time campers have moved on to transitional or more permanent housing.

Meanwhile, our community never lost its focus. The day when camp residents can live in a permanent village with built-green private cottages surrounding a central building with a common kitchen, restrooms and laundry facilities has finally appeared on the horizon.

Contrast that to the City of Seattle, for example. It recently shut down its homeless camp, known as Nickelsville, because it floundered on for two years without electricity, bathrooms or fresh water. It was plagued with rats and mud.

Maybe someday we’ll no longer need a Quixote Village, or a Camp Quixote or dedicated Panza volunteers. But that day is not coming any time soon.

For now, let’s congratulate all those who are making the dream of Quixote Village into a reality. And let’s also pledge ongoing volunteerism to sustain this innovative and inspiring response to homelessness.

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