(UPDATED 3:34 pm with new information from Union Gospel Mission – scroll to end)
Nine days remain until the September 1st date by which city leaders committed to closing the encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville,” on mostly city-owned land at West Marginal Way and Highland Park Way. By multiple accounts – including the one you’ll see below – the number of people there has increased instead of decreased. What will happen when September 1st arrives, remains to be seen. First: We asked for comment from the mayor, whose spokesperson Aaron Pickus replies:
I’m not going to speculate on what will happen on September 1st. What I can say is that our focus is to find shelter for those currently living at the site.
In June, when 7 councilmembers called for the closure, the mayor replied that he would “follow the City Council’s direction to evict those who remain” if the site isn’t vacant on September 1st.
The City Council, which called for the closure, is on its summer break right now, so no official discussions are scheduled on their part. But the latest acknowledgment that the closure date is approaching comes from the Westside Interfaith Network, a coalition of local churches and faith-based groups that has long coalesced around the issue of homelessness. We covered its forum on the issue in mid-June. WIN’s Mary Anne deVry says the group plans nightly vigils at Nickelsville starting this Sunday – NOT to demand that it stay open, but to show their concern about the unsolved problem of homelessness. She writes:
Westside Inferfaith Network (WIN) met this week and decided to hold a vigil at Nickelsville’s parking lot each evening next week (Sun. 8/25 thru Sat. 8/31). This idea arose as we were discussing the growing crisis of homeless people. Our idea is based on these facts:
-Nickelsville is closing (September 1st) & there are still ~150 residents with no confirmed place to move,
-There’s a steady increase of homeless people (recently 9 families asked shelter at N’ville in a 13 day period–& many couples/singles keep coming–none of them were looking for “freebies!)
-2-1-1 reports shelters are full (most people coming to N’ville are told to do so by 2-1-1),
-it’s not safe to live in the greenbelt or city streets.
-We also know literally tens of thousands of people in our area struggle on the brink of homelessness. There will be future homeless people.
We care deeply about the plight of each of these people. At our WIN meeting the flow of comments basically was “what can we do to help all these people…what can we do to show we care…what can we do to enlighten our community about this situation.” The idea that arose was to have a silent witness of love and caring at Nickelsville’s parking lot–for the people there AND for all the struggling people in our community.
Westside Interfaith Network (WIN) church group invites anyone who cares about homeless kids/elderly/or adults to stand with a flashlight at Nickelsville’s parking lot any time 6-10 PM each evening from Sun. 8/25 to Sat. 8/31. As people of faith, we help bring God’s light into our world; and we shed light on the plight of the 10,000’s who are homeless–or on the brink of homelessness–in our area. Where will the current–and future–homeless go after 9/1? Shelters are full; greenbelts are not safe. In the past 13 days, 9 newly-homeless families arrived at N’ville! This is simply our churches/community saying, “we care about our neighbors in need.” Come to SE corner of W.Marginal Wy & SW Highland Pk with a flashlight, park on edge of road, join others and “let your little light shine.”
The hope is that: people will come once/twice/or thrice, and that everyone will pass this information on to friends/family/or foes. Since there is limited parking space near the camp, suggest people car-pool or realize they may have to walk a wee bit. Some have said they’re bringing a camp chair.
Mary Anne added that Nickelsville is mourning Daniel Campbell, a resident who died of lymphoma at the camp last Saturday, and will have a Service of Remembrance
at 7 pm Saturday (update – at a TBA date).
Back to the site’s future – Union Gospel Mission is the organization that is working at city direction to find housing and other services for those at Nickelsville. According to a story in The Stranger, UGM’s “most recent report” says they have moved at least 24 people from the camp.
3:34 PM UPDATE: Just talked with Terry Pallas from UGM. He says that “most recent report” actually was from almost a month ago, and they have now almost doubled the number to 47 people. Eight have accepted “travelers’ aid” and are on their way to other places to relocate with family/friends; the other 39 have housing in this area, including, he says, 20 leased transitional apartments, guaranteed for a year. We will write a separate story with full details of our conversation and how their part of this is going, but wanted to update the number. He acknowledges that since there is no mandate for campers to accept UGM help, nor any mandate for Nickelsville to “close the door,” that the camp still has an estimated 125 or more people.