Read

Search form

Olympia’s Homeless Win Struggle for Permanent Housing

Olympia’s Homeless Win Struggle for Permanent Housing
Fri, 2/28/2014 - by Ken Butigan
This article originally appeared on Waging Nonviolence

In 2007 members of the homeless community in Olympia, Wash., erected a tent city in a downtown parking lot to protest the lack of services and support. Predictably, the city government responded with arrests and shutting down the encampment. That was supposed to be the end of it.

Camp Quixote, though, did not disappear. Instead it embarked on a challenging, circuitous journey that at times must have seemed like some 21st century version of the mad misadventures of its visionary namesake, Don Quixote. Now, against all odds, this six-year pilgrimage has paid off, and Camp Quixote has become Quixote Village: an innovative compound of 30 small cottages and a community center. On December 24, the campers moved in — homeless no more.

Nonviolent action is often dismissed as quixotic: utopian, dreamy, pursuing unreachable goals. But this example underscores how idealism is crucial to making real and practical change, though not always in the way one first imagines. The nonviolent resistance that the homeless women and men of Olympia organized did not change city officials’ minds, but it prompted allies in the community to come forward. A local church offered space for the encampment, and public support grew. The city was persuaded to pass an ordinance to allow the camp to exist, though with the stipulation that it would have to move every three months. Other churches stepped up, and over the past six years the encampment moved over 20 times.

The vision of the Quixote campers from the beginning was to establish permanent housing, and within a few years the group worked with local allies to establish Panza — a nonprofit organization (named in honor of Don Quixote’s more sensible sidekick, Sancho Panza), whose mission would be to build Quixote Village.

Even after land was acquired and a city permit was granted — and necessary funds were raised — business interests in the area went to court to try to stop the project. The court finally ruled in the village’s favor, the 30 houses were built and furnished, and now they are occupied and humming with life.

Panza, the village landlord, is leasing the 2.17-acre site from the local county at $1 per year for 41 years. Village residents pay one-third of their income toward rent. Each cottage measures 150 square feet and includes a front porch, garden space and typical utilities. Two were designed to accommodate disabled residents. The community center has a kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, mailboxes and a common area. Bus service is nearby, and the local bus system has donated an eight-passenger van.

Architects met with members of Camp Quixote during the design process, who insisted that the project build freestanding cottages. This input reflects the self-governing nature of the village, where residents “elect offers and decide who lives there based on strict criteria.”

“Two years ago, I never thought I’d be here,” Quixote Village resident Linda Austin told the Yakima Herald after moving into her home. “It gave me a little hope when I thought there was none.” In another newspaper story, Austin — who joined Camp Quixote a year ago — touted the transforming impact this experience has had on her: “They basically saved my life – they didn’t give up on me… It helped heal my broken spirit.”

Quixote Village may offer a model for other locales, so that such a project may not accommodate only 30 people but the millions of people without homes across the United States and beyond. This model has integrated what Gandhi called the obstructive program with the constructive program. Quixote Village highlights the critical role that nonviolent protest can play in mobilizing people power to challenge what is deemed impossible and to make the breakthroughs necessary for change. At the same time, it underscores the importance of literally building the alternative.

This story is dear to my heart. As someone who grew up in Olympia, I am moved by the emergence of this project and how it carries on the local progressive work for justice — from Rachel Corrie, a local Evergreen College student who was killed nonviolently blockading a bulldozer that was demolishing a family’s home in Palestine in 2003 to the movement that organized blockades of arms shipments at the port a few years ago.

Most personal of all is the fact that my brother Larry died on the streets of Olympia as a homeless person a dozen years ago. I vividly imagine Larry sitting on the porch of one of these new cottages, grinning from ear to ear, and then reaching for his snare drum and playing his music, the passion of his life.

“These people have been to hell and back, and some of them several times,” Jill Severn, an ally who has been in this struggle since 2007,told the Seattle Times.

Now they are home.

Originally published by Waging Nonviolence

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

climate change denial, Carbon Washington, American Legislative Exchange Council, carbon tax, solar subsidies, solar tax breaks, fracking bans

These ballot measures are noteworthy because they don’t just regulate emissions or mandate transitions – they help the economically insecure, create incentives for individual change, and reassert local authority over corporate polluters.

Black Lives Matter, Movement for Black Lives, Black Panthers, Black Panther Party, Organization for Black Struggle, food pantries, community service, Michael Brown, Ferguson protests, Black Power Movement, OurStory, Black Youth Project 100, racial justice

Nearly two years after people took to the streets in Ferguson to protest the killing of Michael Brown, the nationwide movement has broadened its focus to community empowerment in ways reminiscent of the Black Panthers of the 60s.

water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

Take On Wall Street, break up the banks, too big to fail, financial transactions tax, 21st century Glass-Steagall, carried interest tax loophole, Dodd-Frank Act,

In launching a new coalition to reign in the power of the big banks, Warren warned said taxpayers still may have to bail them out: “Dodd-Frank imposed some discipline, but let’s get real. Dodd-Frank did not end too big to fail.”

Some of the biggest issues facing our country are forgotten once the cameras switch off, but our ADD news cycle only makes us more vulnerable to repeat disasters like the Flint water crisis.

climate change, global warming, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, climate protests, global climate movement, Carbon Brief, carbon emissions, climate arrests, British Petroleum, BP, Enbridge, Flood Wall Street, People's Climate March, risking arrest, civil dis

My arrest didn’t feel like a risk, it felt like a transaction. I’ve found freedom in facing my fears and dispensing with false choices.

Posted 5 days 16 hours ago
Nestle water grab, water privatization, Columbia River Gorge, Cascade Locks

Voters in one Oregon county last week approved a ban on commercial bottled water production, stopping a years-long effort by Swiss transnational Nestle to sell over 100 million gallons of water a year from the Columbia River Gorge.

Posted 5 days 17 hours ago
water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

Posted 2 days 7 hours ago

Some of the biggest issues facing our country are forgotten once the cameras switch off, but our ADD news cycle only makes us more vulnerable to repeat disasters like the Flint water crisis.

Posted 3 days 13 hours ago
wealth inequality, income inequality, wealth gap, growing poverty, growing disparity

After 35 years of wealth distribution to the super-rich, inequality has forced much of the middle class towards the bottom, to near-poverty levels, and to a state of helplessness in which they find themselves being blamed for their own misfortunes.

Posted 3 days 13 hours ago
Take On Wall Street, break up the banks, too big to fail, financial transactions tax, 21st century Glass-Steagall, carried interest tax loophole, Dodd-Frank Act,

In launching a new coalition to reign in the power of the big banks, Warren warned said taxpayers still may have to bail them out: “Dodd-Frank imposed some discipline, but let’s get real. Dodd-Frank did not end too big to fail.”

climate change, climate denial, Portland Public Schools

In a move spearheaded by environmentalists, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools.

water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

climate change, global warming, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, climate protests, global climate movement, Carbon Brief, carbon emissions, climate arrests, British Petroleum, BP, Enbridge, Flood Wall Street, People's Climate March, risking arrest, civil dis

My arrest didn’t feel like a risk, it felt like a transaction. I’ve found freedom in facing my fears and dispensing with false choices.

climate change denial, climate deniers, Donald Trump, rising sea levels, carbon emissions

The billionaire who called global warming a hoax is now warning of its dire effects in his company's application to build a sea wall to protect Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland in County Clare.