(WSB photo from Monday night, looking southeast from the encampment’s main gate)
Less than a week remains until September 1st, the date the city has proclaimed and posted for closing the site where the encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville” has been for more than two years. Again tonight, the Westside Interfaith Network brought volunteers to keep vigil outside the encampment, near the busy intersection of West Marginal Way SW and Highland Park Way SW:
Organizer Mary Anne deVry says her understanding is that people are continuing to arrive at Nickelsville, rather than clearing out as the deadline nears; we had heard the same thing in our conversation with a manager from Union Gospel Mission, brought in by the city to spend at least some of the allocated $500,000 to find housing and other services for campers. But again, this week’s nightly vigils by WIN (6-9 pm each evening through Saturday) – a primarily faith-based coalition of churches/organizations in the West Seattle/White Center vicinity – are meant to shine a light on the plight of homeless people, not necessarily to oppose the closure of the encampment, although deVry and other volunteers continue to wonder where the estimated 150 or so there will go.
They shouldn’t have been allowed to put down roots there in the first place, contends Highland Park Action Committee co-chair Carolyn Stauffer, whose community council is headquartered just up the Highland Park Way hill.
(WSB photo, May 2011)
Five days after the camp’s return to the site in May 2011 – the site where it was founded, and from which former Mayor Greg Nickels evicted it days later – current Mayor Mike McGinn told WSB he would not make the campers leave.
Via e-mail, Stauffer told WSB:
… I continue to be floored by the Mayor and the City Council’s willingness to blatantly ignore existing laws as they relate to everyone’s health, safety, and welfare, and their lack of desire to be political leaders or to be problem solvers unless political heat is on. I have also been shocked by the desire of the Mayor and City Council to force this social dilemma onto neighborhoods and to make us the bad guys in this situation – McGinn went so far as to request of us to make more of a stir in the media so he could act with political cover instead of doing what was right in the first place – right for the neighbors and right for the homeless living in Nickelsville. This problem is so easily painted as us and them, which makes it easy for the city to then throw up their hands and say “oh well, the neighbors are NIMBY’s, they don’t want you there- you gotta go.” In reality, Mayor McGinn hasn’t taken charge of this situation, and was not a strong leader from the beginning. By ignoring the unsanctioned encampment for two years, Nickelsville, and the “suburbs of Nickelsville” (as my neighbor Kay so eloquently put it) has put down some roots here and is now facing a standoff come September 1st – just in time for McGinn’s re-election campaign. The Mayor and some members of City Council have known about the rat infestation in the camp, they have known about rapes, about barrings for 911 calls, about violence, drugs, the questionable tactics of leadership in the camp, and the mass exodus into the greenbelt. They have been asked to step up and show some leadership by us for two years now – but they know our neighborhood doesn’t have the luxurious resources of time and energy that a lot of other neighborhoods have to make themselves heard.
My only advice for the next neighborhood doesn’t have to do with the homeless or with Nickelsville itself- welcome them, volunteer, help- but stay on the Mayor and the City Council to make sure they don’t just try to sweep this huge problem under the rug of the city’s fringes again, and hold their feet to the fire from the beginning. Turning a blind eye to the homeless, to our neighborhood, and to the city’s largest greenbelt obviously hasn’t led to any solutions.
We asked her if HPAC had heard anything from the city over the summer as the deadline approached. She said they’ve “not had much contact with anyone from the city other than Jerry DeGrieck,” the mayor’s advisor for issues including human services, who she says “told us that he has “been working with a team from Human Services, Parks, and Police to do weekly trips to identify, post, engage (outreach), and clear encampments in the Greenbelt and all areas around Nickelsville.”
Still no update, on any front, regarding what will happen Sunday if the city deadline arrives with people remaining at Nickelsville itself.