Opinion Columns & Blogs

Fame is fleeting, the Village is forever

On Christmas Eve, 29 residents of Camp Quixote left their tents behind and moved into their brand new, tiny houses at Quixote Village. For everyone who worked long and hard to get the Village built, it was the best Christmas ever. We had a great feast in the community building, and there were lots of tears of joy.

In fact, there were tears of joy for some of us just about every day for the first month. One day, for instance, I walked in the front door of the community building and saw a resident ironing his shirt, getting ready for a job interview, and I just about dissolved into a puddle.

Why? Because it was such a stunning contrast to something I witnessed two years ago: a young woman at Camp Quixote trying to get ready for a job interview, but frustrated to tears because her mascara was frozen.

Now Village residents are warm and dry, and they have indoor plumbing, unlimited access to showers, a fabulous kitchen, laundry facilities and a supportive staff and volunteers. They are making major changes in their lives, and our whole community will benefit from their re-entry into the world of people who live in houses.

In the past few weeks, Quixote Village was featured in a major article in the New York Times, and in live TV broadcasts on MSNBC and on AJAM (Al Jazeera America). This coming week, the Village will also be featured on ABC Evening News with Diane Sawyer.

National media cite Quixote Village as a new template for housing homeless adults at less than half the cost of conventional, low-income apartment housing, and for supporting a self-governing community that focuses on personal responsibility, shared decision-making, and clean and sober living.

Of course we are stunned and flattered by this media attention, and encouraged by the inquiries we are getting from people all over the country who have been inspired by what we’ve done. But we expect our fling with national fame to fade quickly, and that’s fine with us, because we need to focus on making the Village a long-term success.

For the past several years, we thought about building and opening Quixote Village as the ultimate goal of our long struggle for a site, for funding, and for a successful construction project. For some of us, the single-minded focus on getting people out of cold, moldy tents and into houses was nothing less than obsession.

But on Christmas morning, Quixote Village had been transformed overnight from the end of one odyssey into the beginning of another. Panza, the little nonprofit that supports the Village, made a commitment to our funders to operate it for a minimum of 40 years. For every one of those years, we will be challenged to raise about $220,000 to maintain the facility, pay staff and build a savings account to replace roofs or do other repairs or renovations. (For me personally, this means I’ve committed to raising money until I’m 106, so I am doubling my dose of vitamins.)

Some of this funding will come from residents, who pay 30 percent of their incomes in rent. Some will — we hope — come from a state document-recording fee.

And while we might hope that our national fame would inspire some benevolent philanthropist to endow our operating fund, so far the monetary benefits of media coverage have been limited to selling a few T-shirts and receiving a handful of small donations.

So here we are, just over two months after opening the Village, hoping that this amazing, generous community, its legion of volunteers and its elected leaders will stick with us in the years to come.

We know that Quixote Village alone won’t solve the problem of homelessness; the Village is just 30 drops in the bucket. Like Drexel House, once we open a waiting list, it will quickly grow heartbreakingly long. Already, we receive a steady stream of phone calls and visits from homeless people desperate for housing and a caring community.

Of course, Quixote Village’s residents, their elected executive committee, Panza, and everyone in our community who helped build the Village have a lot to be proud of — but we also have a lot more work to do.

Jill Severn is a board member of Panza, and can be reached at jillsevern@comcast.net. For more about Quixote Village, go to quixotevillage.com.