This past Christmas Eve, 30 homeless adults found a permanent residence in Olympia, Wash.
Before the move, the group lived in tents, hosted by different churches in the area. Many of the people had been sleeping in the woods and just wanted a safe place to stay.
Now, Camp Quixote is known as Quixote Village and comprises tiny houses for homeless adults. At 144 square feet, the homes are about the size of a one-car garage.
During the weekly Wednesday night dinner, the village community center is teeming with activity. Residents scoop up forkfuls of meatloaf and mac and cheese. Everyone’s spread out: washing dishes in the kitchen, fiddling with a laptop or swapping stories about their day. “This is actually a home,” organizer Jill Severn said.
Unlike homeless shelters, where there is little stability, residents don’t have to leave the facility in the morning. They can live at Quixote Village for as long as they need a place to stay.
Quixote Village offers more than a bed. It gives residents their own house. Albeit, a tiny one. “Now that people are in housing, the world looks so different. From the day we moved in here, the conversation changed. People started talking about what they wanted to do with their lives. Not just how to get through the day,” Severn said.
'I Could Finally Go Home And Be At Ease'
Quixote resident Rebekah Johnson, 34, lives in her new house at the end of a row of identical looking dwellings: pitched roof, tiny porch, a light by the front door. Inside, Johnson has all of her necessities. “You have a little living room area with my table computer on it. Twin-size bed. Milk crates work great for book shelves. Pictures of my kids that I actually get to hang up, that I don't have to have them in a plastic bag where they'll get wet. I actually get to have them,” she said.
Johnson is trying to get into treatment for her drug and alcohol addiction. Two years ago, she lost custody of her three kids, went to jail and was evicted from her house. After becoming homeless, she lived inside a tent in the woods. “Being a female and being alone out there is really, really scary. I know. I've done it. That's not something I ever want to have to ever experience again,” Johnson said.
Now, her house backs up to a protective fence that encloses the village, and her belongings are locked up with a key. “Once I got into a secure place, I didn't need to get high every day. I could finally go home and be at ease because I had a safe place. I didn't have to worry about staying awake, staying alive,” Johnson said.
Residents collaborated on the village’s design. Originally, the homes were laid out in clusters around the property for privacy, but there were concerns about cliques forming. So the architect created a horseshoe layout with the homes facing inward. Another design compromise was the front porch. The residents gave up the living space for an outdoor place to socialize. “Come summertime, everybody's going to be sitting out sunbathing on their porches or having barbecues,” Johnson said.
'I’m Pretty Much A Homebody'
Quixote Village is located on a 12.7-acre land in an industrial area, which is leased from Thurston County for $1 a year. The village is located on the outskirts of town. Freight trucks marked Pepsi Cola are parked nearby. A chain-link fence runs parallel to the road. It’s not a place you’d expect to see a fleet of tiny houses. The nearest bus stop is about a mile away, so a van is provided for Quixote residents to run errands.
Quixote resident Jimmi Christensen admits that sometimes he feels bored at the village, but living in an industrial zone can be a positive thing. “For me, the downtown is the easy drugs. So, I removed myself from that environment, and it’s not as easy to get high," he said. "I’m pretty much a homebody, so I don’t want to leave home."
And when he does feel tempted to use drugs, he occupies his mind with playing bass guitar, working on computers or walking the few feet it takes to reach his neighbor’s doorstep. “Just talking to her kind of veers my mind away from running downtown and getting a dose,” Christensen said. "So yeah, I think this environment definitely helps."
Even on the outskirts of town, Quixote Village faced legal opposition from nearby businesses and landowners, but a Superior Court judge eventually ruled in favor of the village. Funding to build Quixote Village came from the state and county government. The total cost of the complex is a little more than $3 million. Housing is subsidized so that 30 percent of residents’ income is allocated toward rent. If their income is zero, they pay nothing.
'Everybody Deserves Another Chance'
Currently, Johnson isn’t employed. She’s working on her sobriety and staying clean — requirements for living at the village. “Not a lot of people, especially homeless people, get a house for Christmas,” she said. "Luckily 30 of us did. Everybody deserves another chance and deserves a home other than a tent.”
Even though Johnson’s home is tiny, she’s filled with big future plans: a summer garden, neighborhood barbecues and visitation with her kids. Quixote Village is a place she hopes, someday, more people can call home.