Monday, May 2, 2011

Olympia Planning Commission Hears Quixote Village Testimony: "We're Not Helping 'Those People' - We're Helping Each Other...."

Above: The proposed Quixote Village. The model was created by students at The Evergreen State College.

by Janine Gates

Over 30 people spoke to Olympia Planning Commissioners and a standing room only crowd tonight at a public hearing regarding community efforts for Camp Quixote, a temporary camp for the homeless, to become a permanent encampment, called Quixote Village. The hearing was conducted at Olympia's new city hall and lasted two hours.

The public hearing addressed two aspects: extend the time limit from 90 days to 120 days for a temporary homeless encampment to be allowed to stay in a given location, and determine zoning code amendments to land development regulations for the proposed encampment. Their recommendations will be forwarded to the Olympia city council for their consideration.

A permanent homeless encampment is currently not a listed use within the city's zoning code. Last November, the Olympia City Council directed staff to expedite zoning code amendments to the Planning Commission that would allow a permanent homeless encampment.

Camp Quixote began as a protest in 2007 on city-owned property in downtown Olympia. When police moved in to disperse the group, First United Methodist Church offered them sanctuary. Now, seven local congregations host the camp on a 90-day rotation schedule. It is currently at United Churches on 11th Avenue and Capitol Way, near the Capitol Campus, having just moved on Thursday from First Christian Church.

Educators, social service workers, camp volunteers, home builders, community and church leaders, students, and Camp Quixote residents presented the commissioners with a variety of compelling and articulate personal stories in support of the village. Many provided commissioners moving testimony of how they came to be homeless in Thurston County.

Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe spoke on behalf of all three commissioners, stating that they are "100 percent behind this effort. It's efficient, economically feasible and environmentally sensitive....It's a model for the rest of the county...please move it forward. This is the best proposal we've seen in a long time," said Wolfe.

The proposed permanent homeless encampment is on Thurston County owned property in the Mottman Industrial District. Thurston County has donated the two acre parcel of land for the proposed village.

Quixote Village would contain 30 permanent dwellings with communal use of bathrooms, showers, laundry, dining, and other facilities. Community vegetable, herb and flower gardens are also proposed for the area.

Jill Severn, chair of the non-profit Panza committee, was the first speaker, saying that Quixote Village would address our basic values of a "safe, strong sense of community that is environmentally sustainable." The village, she said, will be safe, beautiful, and walkable, with warm and dry cottages.

Her sentiments were echoed by the remaining speakers except for a couple property owners adjacent to the property, who said they were just notified of the proposal this last week.

John Peranzi, who lives near the property, and his attorney, Robert Casey, who also spoke, said this is the wrong place for this encampment and that the city has limited industrial area, which feeds a job base. He said that trucks are in and out at 7 a.m. Trucks that are put in reverse produce a loud beeping sound that could disrupt residents.

"Quixote Village is a residential use and the comprehensive plan prohibits residential use next to an industrial use with few exceptions," said Casey. Casey submitted a seven page letter to commissioners that one commissioner said she received earlier this evening. Peranzi and his attorney urged that should the village be approved, that additional conditions be imposed. "This proposal puts the cart before the horse. It requires a change in the comprehensive plan, and legally, that's not happening or proposed," said Casey.

Tony Cairone, who lives directly across from the proposed village, said he bought his property in 1978 and developed it in 1986. He said the process is "a little daft."

"It is 24/7 industrial...I own property on South Bay Road that I'd give you if you wanted it, but no body's asked me. Is there a plan to block this thing? I'll find out. The Planning Commission blew it - we should have been notified about this a long time ago - I don't want to prevent these people from a place to live, but it doesn't belong here."

John Kotola, president and chair of the EcoBuilding Guild, said that as a long-time business owner in the area, he's driven by the property for the last 11 years and it's an eyesore. "The encampment would be a definite improvement."

Chris VanDaalen, education chair coordinator for the EcoBuilding Guild said that Camp Quixote residents work well together, and have a strong code of conduct.

"The village is not an encampment, but a permanent village for low income people, because once this is built, they won't be homeless. Once it's built, it's a place where I'd want to live....I'm inspired by it. It has transformed the community's relationship with its homeless...."

Tinamarie Swihart said she has been a resident of Camp Quixote for two months. "We're a family, we care for each other, help each other. Our hosts talk with us, listen to us...."

Swihart said she lost her job, was hit by a car, and is now disabled. "Not all of us choose to be homeless...We do show respect and honor. We are not a danger or a threat just because we are homeless. We want to be active members of society. I did help, pay my taxes, donate to my church. I am worthwhile and special because I'm alive. I love Camp Quixote."

Another resident, Lucas Riedler, said he has lived in Washington for four years, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Washington National Guard. A diagnosis of a psychiatric disability and knee surgery a year ago started his path to homelessness.

"I work part-time, and if it wasn't for Camp Quixote, that wouldn't be possible." Riedler said it's hard to hold a job when you're trying to meet your basic needs, like trying to find out where to take a shower or go to the bathroom. "Camp Quixote has been a blessing for me," said Riedler.

Another homeless person, Sheran Creed, lives at the Bread and Roses women's shelter on Eighth Avenue in Olympia and described her path to homelessness. After a broken relationship in which she was thrown out and unable to get her belongings back, she was in a car accident and is now on medication due to a cognitive disorder.

"It takes me all day to catch a bus, go to the doctor's office, and go to social services. Before homelessness, I was used to cars and planes, not buses and trains." She supported the efforts to create a Quixote Village. "Push, push hard - these people deserve it. They have no mailbox, no address, no way for DSHS or doctors to contact them. This means a lot - it's a leg up. It's a possibility."

Above: Olympia Planning Commissioner Roger Horn stands in a nearly complete home designed to be mobile so it can travel with Camp Quixote from church to church. The homes were on display for the South Sound Green Tour last month in downtown Olympia. The tour was sponsored by the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild.

Several volunteers for Camp Quixote also spoke.

Jeff Loyer says he started volunteering with Camp Quixote because he owns a trailer. "Helping people move leads to a compassionate life," Loyer said, to chuckles from the audience.

"This (village) is an opportunity to do something unique - we have to be creative, and challenge day to day thoughts. I move them and I look at the turmoil in their souls." Loyer urged the commissioners to extend the time limit for moving from place to place to 120 days.

"It's a reasonable compromise. Camp Quixote works - you just have to visit it a couple times and you see that it's working - they aren't sitting around being lazy. A permanent camp would be viable and attractive."

Matt Newton, an instructor with YouthBuild, teaches construction skills to 28 at-risk youth at New Market Skills Center in Tumwater. His students have helped build three little homes - prototypes built to be portable - which were recently on display at the South Sound Green Home tour last month in Olympia.

"They have insulation, a heater, a light bulb, an outlet, a skylight, different than most of your homes, except that it's the size of your walk-in closet." Newton described the pride his students felt being part of the tour.

"Quixote Village is about building community where there wasn't one before."

Arthur Vaeni, pastor at Unitarian Universalist Church in Olympia, which has hosted the camp several times, said that he supports transforming Camp Quixote to Quixote Village.

"One of the things I'm concerned about is legitimatizing tent cities by continuing Camp Quixote in this form. Right from the start, they had a vision to have a village. I have found that it is best to listen to those who need help, and help them help themselves."

An architect, Garner Miller, said he has donated his services to the Quixote Village proposal. "I thought it was really important - I wanted to make sure the residents had a voice. In this series of workshops with the camp, groups of residents with pens, paper, and scissors laid out a facility site plan that you have in your packet. The county site will be great. If the land wasn't available, I don't think it'd be viable.

Miller said some may ask why there aren't apartments in the site plan. "That's not how these residents want to live...."

John Redfern, another volunteer, says he hasn't lived in Olympia long because he's in the military, but he and his wife are avid supporters of Camp Quixote.

Redfern said it's taken several years of self-discovery and a deployment to Afghanistan to realize that "there are no differences in people around the world. They've helped me discover that more. We're not helping 'those people' - we're helping each other. We're fragile. It doesn't take much to put us there (at Camp Quixote). It could happen to any of us at any time. Who knows - we could be there tomorrow, and they could be giving us a hand up," said Redfern.

Commission Chair Roger Horn said that the commission will deliberate the testimony at its next meeting, May 16. The meeting will be held at Olympia City Hall, 601 4th Avenue East, and begin at 6:30 p.m.

For more information about Camp Quixote and the proposal for the village, contact Steve Friddle, city of Olympia community services manager at (360) 753-8591. Written comments will be accepted until the close of business on Friday, May 6, and may be directed to the Olympia Planning Commission and sent to PO Box 1967, Olympia, WA 98507. Email for general Planning Commission topics: Put Attn: Planning Commission in the subject line or at the top of your message.

Above: Olympia Planning Commissioner Roger Horn speaks with student home builder Tyler White, 18, inside a Quixote Village home at the South Sound Green Tour last month. White attended tonight's public hearing about Quixote Village. He says he started building the tiny homes last December through YouthBuild, a program for at-risk youth. White says YouthBuild helped him get back on track with school and get job experience.

Asked what he likes most about building the houses, White says he really liked showing the houses at the South Sound Green Tour. "Getting my confidence up so that I could talk with people was an awesome experience."

White now has a landscaping job, but will continue building houses with YouthBuild. His teacher, Matt Newton, spoke at tonight's hearing. For more information about YouthBuild, go to