(EDITOR’S NOTE: Shortly after the encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville” returned to West Seattle a week ago, two longtime WSB Forums members e-mailed with news that another longtime member and WSB site participant, whose many comments have provided humor and history, Mike aka “miws,” was among its newest residents; they helped him get set up there after he was evicted from his Morgan Junction apartment. We have met Mike several times over the past few years; we knew he was struggling, but didn’t know he had become homeless. We were glad to hear they wanted to tell his story, provided he gave his permission, which he did.)
Story by Joanne Brayden
Photos by Kevin McClintic
Special to West Seattle Blog
On Monday, Mike, who posts on the West Seattle Blog Forums as miws, became a resident of Nickelsville, the tent-city encampment that recently made news as it moved out of a city-provided shelter at old Fire Station #39 and back to an empty field in the industrial area along the Duwamish River at the eastern base of West Seattle, without the city’s blessing.
By Wednesday, Mike had already worked one shift as Security and voted in camp meetings that will determine the future of his new home. He hasn’t just settled in, he has become part of the community, and can’t stop telling everyone how lucky he was that Nickelsville moved back to West Seattle so there was space for him when he needed them.
A look around at the hastily created camp and the tent Mike now calls home might make you question his enthusiasm, but you don’t have to spend long there to realize there is much more there than scattered tents and a communal campfire. Nickelsville isn’t at all what you expect from a bunch of homeless people camped out alongside the road.
Mike, a native West Seattleite, doesn’t match the stereotypical image of people who find themselves homeless. His attitude is upbeat and he has a wide circle of supportive friends, including two different online communities who have been helping him while he recovered from a life-threatening, job-ending illness.
This week those online friends, people whose only connection was virtual, helped him transition from his small apartment to homelessness, after eviction became unavoidable. It was a heartbreaking and illuminating first for everyone involved; one of those experiences that really makes you question everything you thought you knew.
Mike will tell you that this may be the best thing that has ever happened to him; he had the best night’s sleep he has had in months in his little tent. He says he is lucky to have entered Nickelsville at such an opportune time. He is grateful for a safe place to stay while he rebuilds his life and excited to be able to help create a larger community for others. This is a very busy little village, full of the kind of people with a wide variety of skills who help one another just because they can.
Nickelsville is a self-managed homeless community that provides security and support for its residents. They will proudly tell you that they welcome anyone who is clean and sober and willing to participate in creating a self-sustaining community; provided of course that you can provide government-issued identification and aren’t a registered sex offender.
Before Mike checked in he had to agree to abide by some fairly strict rules: respecting the privacy of others, no alcohol, no drugs, no violence, etc..; this camp has a zero-tolerance policy that emphasizes personal responsibility.
They say decisions are communal, everyone works within the camp, families live together, pets are welcome, and visitors are encouraged.
There was a time when evictions among working people were rare, but the recent economic downturn has ended job security and has made it much more difficult for people to re-enter the workforce after life-threatening illnesses, the number-one cause of homelessness.
Mike was lucky. He will tell you that himself. He had the support of people who cared what happened to him and a safe place to go when he lost his home and all of the stuff he thought mattered so much to him. He had friends who made sure he had basic survival gear and he didn’t walk into Nickelsville alone. He has people looking out for him both inside and outside the camp. He may be the only forum member in residence, but now he is not the only one who can be seen quietly helping the camp re-establish itself in West Seattle.
Next time you see Mike’s familiar sign-on, he will be writing from one of the public terminals at the Seattle Public Library (we photographed him at the Southwest branch). Mike plans to share his experiences with his forum friends because he knows firsthand how important it can be to have a safe place to land if the worst happens.
If you want to know how you can help or want more information about Nickelsville, you can contact them through their webpage at www.nickelsvilleseattle.org or contact their representative at 206-450-9136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. (The camp is at W. Marginal Way SW and Highland Park Way SW; here’s a map.)
Mike’s new address doesn’t look like much yet, but it is full of possibilities he can’t wait to share with us. Wednesday, the Mayor’s office told WSB that the city won’t try to evict them from the West Seattle site while a permanent location is pursued. But Nickelsville organizers say they have great plans, and with a little luck and a little help, they believe they have found that location.