Above: Quixote Village residents Theresa Bitner, left, and Kenny Wyllys are finally home for the holidays.
by Janine Unsoeld
Nearly 30 people are finally home for the holidays this Christmas in Thurston County's new Quixote Village for residents who were previously homeless.
While some volunteers and camp residents sorted blankets, towels, and other linens, others prepared a holiday dinner in the nearly complete community building. Some organized their new little homes and relaxed in front of a decorated Christmas tree.
"We're moving in before it's finished - it'll be a couple more weeks before construction crews are truly done," said Jill Severn today as she worked in the kitchen. "We have a lot landscaping to do," and, pointing to the concrete floor of the community center, "a cork floor will soon be installed, and it will be quieter."
Severn said 27 people are currently moved in when Little Hollywood visited Quixote Village late this afternoon.
"By the end of the day, we'll have 29, and one more will move in when they get out of treatment, for a full capacity of 30," said Severn, a board member of Panza, a nonprofit that has overseen the project to build the permanent village for the homeless from beginning to completion.
Village resident Kenny Wyllys, sitting near the community center's Christmas tree, was asked what he liked best about the village. A Camp Quixote resident for seven years, Wyllys replied, "It's warm....it's warm," then he laughed.
Theresa Bitner, who just turned 24 a few days ago, was also sitting in front of the tree, working on her laptop. A resident of Camp Quixote since July, Bitner has been homeless off and on. Her father, who sat nearby, also lives in the camp. Bitner was interested in telling her story:
Born in Seattle, she has lived throughout Puget Sound. Her circumstances leading to homelessness are very ordinary, and all too typical for many youth.
"I had a job and was living with other people off the bus line. My rent was $200 and I was paying friends and people to take me to work, but that was expensive and I had to pay for other things. So then I moved, but my boss wouldn't work with the bus schedule...."
She got into Camp Quixote in July by attending a Sunday night meeting, filling out an application, and after a background check, got voted in by the camp council.
"Not everybody gets voted in...." she explained.
Asked what her plans are now that she has a home, Bitner was very specific.
"It's so much better now that I have a place to take a shower and do my laundry. I want to apply to college. I want to be a story board illustrator. I want to get a job and save $3,000, and I want to get a car. Then, when I've saved some money, I'll put my name on a waiting list to get into rapid rehousing."
Asked why she wants to save $3,000, she said, "Oh, it's just a goal, because then I know I can get to $5,000....People can be homeless and save up for things....."
Asked if she has any job interests or education, she said, "Oh yes, I have four and a half years of commercial graphic design and two years of DigiPen media communications."
Asked what that means, she said it means she enjoys computer film editing and audio, and sketching in pen and ink, and colored markers. She showed me some of her art on her computer, saying, "I can replicate art from Alphonse Mucha to Garfield."
Bitner welcomes inquiries about her art and qualifications at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bitner's enthusiasm for her art is matched by her love of animals, especially her cat, Loki. Currently separated from Loki while she settles in, Bitner's little black cat will join her in the Village next Friday. She admits she has some anxiety as she gets settled in, and misses Loki, who is a therapy animal for her.
"I've had Loki for six years...his name is Norse for 'God of Mischief' he and lives up to his name...." she laughed.
She offered to show me her place but smiled and added, "It's kind of messy right now."
Asked if there was anything she needed, she said, "Well, we need brooms, cleaning supplies, garbage bags - things people take for granted."
Asked again if there was anything she personally needed, she said, "I would love cat litter, cat food, and supplies."
Above: Linda Austin in front of her new home at Quixote Village on Mottman Road.
A resident of Camp Quixote for a year, Linda Austin offered to show me her place. Austin, from West Virginia, moved to Washington State two years ago. Austin is very appreciative of everything Camp Quixote and the staff have offered.
"I received my first Christmas stocking last Christmas, for the first time in my life," said Austin. "I never had a Christmas stocking before." She said her father worked in the coal mines, and with four other children in the family, she didn't get much.
"When I came to the camp, I was a stranger, and sick. They didn't give up on me - they treated me like somebody when I felt like I was a nobody....Miriam and Jill gave me my first bicycle too! And they took me to the ocean. I had never seen the ocean before," said Austin, with a soft Southern drawl and an easy laugh. Miriam Lorch and Jill Severn are volunteer Panza board members.
Austin is thrilled with her new home, showing me her bathroom, curtains, TV, and assorted linens still in packages.
Above: Linda Austin shows off a picture she bought at Harry's Market in Lacey with her first paycheck when she was working. She looks forward to hanging it in her new home.
"The cost of living in Washington is unreal, but the jobs in West Virginia aren't plentiful....I'm grateful to the Union Gospel Mission, and everyone. I've been blessed....We're like family here...there's so many nice women here. I was scared when I first came into the camp, but now I'm not....the men are really respectful to women...."
She says she enjoys working with animals and used to work at the Humane Society in West Virginia. "I'd like to work in animal rescue," she says.
It started getting dark as Linda and I walked along the newly poured sidewalks leading back to the community building.
By the time we got there, all the porch lights were turned on.
Above: Linda's neighbor waves hello.
For more information about homelessness issues, Camp Quixote, and Quixote Village, including pictures from the groundbreaking ceremony on June 8, go to previous Little Hollywood stories at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type in key words into the search engine.
Donations of frozen meat, fish, vegetables, and all the kind of supplies one usually has in a home are appreciated. Contact Jill Severn at (360) 753-2095 to schedule your delivery to the Village. For a full list of appreciated items and more information about Panza, go to www.quixotevillage.com.
Panza is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that grew out of the faith communities that have hosted and supported Camp Quixote. Panza is working to help build Quixote Village, and organizes community volunteers, raises funds, acts as a liaison with city and county governments, and helps the Camp Resident Council develop leadership and self-government skills. Panza has grown to include a variety of professional and community leaders as well as clergy and lay representatives.
Above: Landscaping, fruit trees, vegetable gardens and so much more will be planted in Quixote Village.