New Approach, New Outlook

     On Christmas Eve 2013, Quixote Village opened its doors to 30 homeless individuals, beginning what is now viewed as one of the most successful housing programs in the country. Formed as a permanent solution for those who wish to move their lives off the street, conquer addiction, or acquire gainful employment, Villagers are expected to adhere to a strict no drugs or alcohol policy, and get off the streets for good. The Village spawned out of a travelling camp which had been migrating from parking lot to parking lot in Downtown Olympia for nearly seven years. After conflicts with police and city officials, a group of local churches banded together to create Panza, the 501(c)(3), a charitable organization that operates Quixote Village. Today, the Village is viewed as a success, and offers a prime example for other cities to fashion similar programs.

     The Village consists of 30 individual 144 sq.ft. cottages, a community building with showers and a laundry facility, and a shared garden. It lies on a 2.17 acres in an industrial zone, which is leased from Thurston County for a generous $1 a year. Most of the $3.05 million it took to make the dream a reality came in the form of Federal and State Grants. Yet, a significant portion of funds came through donations from Olympia community members.

     The Sounds got a chance to sit down with Raul Salazar, the Project Manager of Quixote Village, for an interview. Salazar, an ex-probation officer who takes a dynamic approach to managing the Village’s tenants, opened up about the tribulations of breaking new ground in the war on homelessness, “I would say our first year, year and a half, was more challenging than the last few months.—Some of the transition just proved to be too much for some people [tenants].”  

     However, today the screening process at Quixote Village ensures that the people who are allowed to sign a lease are those who, “Want to be here,” says Salazar. He later states that, “It’s made for a pretty quiet community for the most part.” The overall success of the project relies heavily on cooperation from tenants, whom are all encouraged to participate in rulemaking and resident vetting. The proof can be seen in the fact that, “Approximately half of them are still our original residents!”

      According to Michael Tortorello of The New York Times, who visited Quixote Village in early 2014, “It is rare that folks who live on the street have a chance to collaborate—Nearly as surprising is that Quixote Village may become a template for homeless housing projects across the country.” In Tortorello’s view, homelessness is a growing problem in America, and projects like the Village have the best chance of combating this dilemma by humanizing the issue, giving the benefit of the doubt to tenants, and treating addiction as a medical condition as opposed to a crime. Tortorello points out, “No one who lives in Quixote Village is actually homeless anymore”, highlighting an obvious benefit to permanent housing for this over-marginalized class.