Friday, September 26, 2008


Last night I headed out to Nickelsville to lend a hand and take a look around.

Nickelsville is a homeless camp that appeared early in the morning of Sept. 22, on a vacant lot in the industrial lands south of Seattle. Using tents donated by the girl scouts and the Race for the Cure, the makeshift city had some 200 tents in place by dawn. By the end of that day the City of Seattle had covered the site with No Trespassing signs and 72-hour eviction notices.

For a "city" that was built overnight, Nickelsville is impressively efficient and well-organized. Tents are arranged in distinct groups, with a small group of Port-a-potties behind each group. At the entrance to the camp a set of tables beneath tarps serves as a check-in point, first aid station and camp kitchen.

While I was there, a team of volunteer builders, led by UW engineering student Joe Taylor, was constructing an administrative building from palettes and donated scraps of lumber. SHARE/WHEEL, the organization responsible for organizing the Tent Cities that roam Seattle and the East Side, was a major force behind getting Nickelsville up and organized. Many of the campers had been living in the two nomadic Tent Cities.

Mayor Nickels (for whom the camp is named) has been consistent in describing the camp as a political demonstration - which it is, to a certain extent - but much more importantly it's abundantly clear that the camp is full of genuinely neglected people who need a safe and supportive place to stay.

As advocates have pointed out again and again and again, 2,631 people were counted sleeping outside on a freezing January night this year. The Post-Intelligencer reported that 24 people were turned away from Operation Nightwatch on the very night that Nickelsville went up owing to a lack of shelter beds. The fact is indisputable - there just isn't enough shelter in Seattle.

The word in the camp is that clearances may begin this morning. The City is due to arrive between 6 and 7 am today, with bulldozers. Send an email to Mayor Nickels to let him know what you think, and keep an eye on Real Change news or Tim Harris' blog Apesma's Lament for updates.

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