Saturday, June 8, 2013

Quixote Village Groundbreaking: Miracles Happen

Above: Camp Quixote resident Kevin Johnson, after performing today's ceremonial groundbreaking of Quixote Village, a permanent village of 30 cottages for the homeless.

by Janine Unsoeld

It takes a village to build a village. That was the upbeat message today as a couple hundred people turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony of Quixote Village, a permanent village for homeless residents of Thurston County.

Pink tape marked out the locations of where the tiny homes will be built. The land, set within city of Olympia limits about a mile from South Puget Sound Community College on Mottman Road, was donated by Thurston County to Panza, the nonprofit organization overseeing Camp Quixote and Quixote Village.

Panza board member Miriam Lorch serves as the board's volunteer coordinator and expressed the theme of the day in a few words: "This is a celebration of a lot of hard work and determined's such a step forward from tents!"

Several residents of Camp Quixote were in attendance and very much took center stage in the ceremony.

Steve Clark, a 13 month resident of Camp Quixote, serves as president of the camp, elected by his peers. Today, he was busy writing receipts for those making donations to Panza.
Asked how he arrived at Camp Quixote, Clark said he was from Tacoma, and became down on his luck. "I've been married 30 years to the same beautiful lady. Our wedding anniversary is July 18. I've never been homeless before...I spent a month without her down here, but neither of us could stand to be away from each other." He said his wife is now in the camp with him. Clark says he has carpentry skills and he's looking for a job.
"We have some outstanding residents in our camp and Panza has been a miracle. If  it wasn't for them, there wouldn't be a village," said Clark.

Above: Camp Quixote president Steve Clark leans on the ceremonial shovel used at today's groundbreaking of Quixote Village.

Scott Benz, a three month resident of Camp Quixote, said he arrived at the camp from Florida, where he contracted Lyme disease. He's been a carpenter for 15 years and picked Washington State to move to because of the cloudy weather. He found out about the camp through Sidewalk, a one-stop homeless services center in Olympia.
Mark Blaker, another camp resident who is an enrolled member of the Ojibwe Tribe, gave a blessing of the land and Kevin Johnson, a six year camp resident, did the ceremonial "groundbreaking."

John Colt, a two year camp resident who designed the blue Quixote Village t-shirts worn by many, said, "It's a wonderful day. This groundbreaking is a spiritual's truly a miracle that we've come this far."

This Tuesday, June 11, the Olympia city council is scheduled to hold a public hearing regarding a proposed amount of $55,000 to go to Panza in support of Quixote Village for public facilities, and $40,500 for social services, both amounts coming from its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Several Olympia city council members, two county commissioners, two Tumwater city council members, and Washington State Speaker of the House Frank Chopp were also present today.

Above: Panza president Tim Ransom directs volunteers before today's ceremony.

Several Panza board members were in attendance, and by the end of the ceremony they were in tears, overcome with emotion in realizing how far they have come to make the village a reality.

The construction cost for the planned community is $2.8 million. Panza has sought and received federal, foundation, tribal, individual and business associate grants to pay for the development and construction of the village infrastructure and central community building. They also hope to partner with local nonprofit farm and garden organizations that can help establish a village garden and income generating projects within the village. The cottages emphasize affordability, environmental sustainability, and community.

In December 2012, $300,000 was still needed: $140,000 to fully construct the village, and $160,000 to buy furniture and appliances for the community building and cottages, and establish a reserve fund for construction, operations, and maintenance.

According to Panza president Tim Ransom, a capital funding gap was unexpectedly created due to a 30% increase in construction costs since their initial estimate was conducted a year ago. The board conducted "radical surgery" on their budget requests for such items as gutters, downspouts, interior lamination for the cottages, and a woodstove in the community building. In April, Thurston County Home Consortium voting members approved an emergency request by Panza of $170,000 to help close the budget gap and avoid delay in construction.

The 2,700 square foot community building will contain a kitchen, and laundry and bathing facilities. The tiny cottages, each 144 square feet, will have a bed with storage underneath, a desk, a sink and a toilet. Residents will go to the community building for showers, for the preparation of food, and to meet with social service providers. The cottages will be prefabricated and then assembled on site.

Construction will start next week and residents are expected to move in by the end of the year. Residents will be charged rent based on their individual income and will contribute their time and labor to the maintenance of the building and the grounds.

Board member Jill Severn received a standing ovation at the beginning of her speech for her ongoing efforts and work with Panza. Her powerful words did not disappoint:

"...We are not just breaking ground, we are breaking new ground by building a new kind of housing for people who've been homeless. The ideas for this village comes from the original founders of Camp Quixote and it was camp residents who met with our team of architects to devise this layout. This is a design that provides dignity and privacy but prevents social isolation. This the architecture of community living," she said.

"For camp residents, the alternative to living in community is facing all the dangers of pitching a tent in the woods or sleeping under a bridge. Necessity, it turns out, is the mother of community...We must all learn to live together in community without killing each other or the natural world that sustains us, or we may all perish on a ruined planet. Today, we see hope for redemption - and we have been led here by the residents of a tent camp for homeless adults, who banded together in pursuit of justice, peace and community. With that hope in mind, we might think of Quixote Village as a pebble dropped in a pond, sending out ripples of hope and fresh thinking far beyond this site, and beyond this community...."

The Quixote Village has a long wish list for its cottages, community building, and landscaping. To learn more, or to donate, send donations to Panza, PO Box 2274, Olympia, WA 98507 or go to

For more information about homelessness in Thurston County, Camp Quixote, and to see pictures of the tiny cottages, go to and type key words into the search box.

Above: Children played Frisbee during today's groundbreaking ceremony of Quixote Village.
Above: The Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation (OUUC) choir sang several songs today, and ended the ceremony with an appropriately rousing, "If I Had A Hammer," words and music by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger.
OUUC's Rev. Arthur Vaeni gave the day's invocation, saying, in part, "Today we gather to break ground for Quixote Village. This community we are jointly seeking to create may not prove to be Heaven, but it is, I believe, another small step we're taking together to help save our society's soul...."