“Nickelsville”: What’s next, and what the sweep was like

We haven’t been back yet tonight, but by all accounts, some of those who were camping on city land till police swept the site this afternoon are now on adjacent state land – this is still all part of the potential city jail site at Highland Park Way/West Marginal – and have a few days grace period there. At the end of this afternoon’s sweep, the city said 13 campers had taken them up on their offer of a shelter bed, and insisted they had room for everyone who wanted one. And tonight, there’s a new call from local legislators for the mayor to negotiate with advocates for the homeless. This afternoon, we reported on the sweep as it happened, and finally tonight have finished going through our video and photos to create a diary of sorts, in case you are interested in seeing more of what it was like:

Co-publisher Patrick spent four hours at the camp this morning, waiting to see what would happen; that, as we reported this morning, is when some of the tents started moving into the parking lot.

At 10:30, he came home; nothing had happened, nothing seemed imminent. Then around noon, while he and Junior Member of the Team were at another commitment, I was on the way to the old Southgate roller rink to get an update on its future as a swap-meet site, when WSB tipster Scott C e-mailed that a TV chopper had just shown pictures of something going on at Nickelsville. Half an hour later – just as a radio report said “police are reportedly coming in at 12:35, minutes from now” — I found a parking spot along the busy road just southeast of the camp – no way to get closer with all the media vehicles. Before crossing the street, I had this view of the entrance to the camp, including the parking lot where some campers have now moved, and where TV trucks were parked in profusion:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

As I turned my camera off to cross the street, one of the sign-wielding men yelled, “Come on over with your camera! We need more people with cameras to record what’s going on!”

Well, they probably didn’t really need more people. There were as many photographers – still, video, fullbore TV models, semipro video, handheld video like ours – as campers, on view. For a few minutes, I wandered the site, dry grass and slashed blackberry stubs underfoot – Patrick had been there several times this week, but I hadn’t – to see what was going on, and finally drifted with the media crowd to a platform where organizer Anitra Freeman (one of the two people who visited the Highland Park Action Committee last Monday night, hours after “Nickelsville” was set up) briefed “Nickelodeons” – the campers – on what police had just told her:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

She went on to offer practical advice: “If you plan to be arrested, do have legal ID on you” and also advised what NOT to have (weapons, contraband, but she quickly qualified nobody in the camp was supposed to have those anyway). Then, on cue, shortly after 1, police arrived — I recognized some of the Southwest Precinct leaders we’ve met at everything from Summer Fest to West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meetings to other community gatherings – Lt. Ron Smith was at the head of the group; Community Police Team members, who often find themselves dealing with much smaller encampments (among other things) were there too. They approached from the east:

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We, the media group, followed them all the way to the west/entrance end of the camp, not knowing exactly how they were going to go about rousting the campers – then we turned around and padded back after them as they went back east:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

Some items were taken out of the camp even as police plotted their strategy; I turned around to look back at the entrance, and caught a portable gazebo being carried back up the hill:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

At 1:24, half an hour after Anitra Freeman stood up and talked to the campers, she was the first person arrested; officers talked with her as she sat on the ground in front of one of the easternmost tents. No drama – they talked, they helped her up, she walked away with them:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

(Freeman has a blog, by the way; when we checked it a short time ago, its newest entry was from Thursday.) As officers walked through the camp, looking inside tents, some would-be arrestees simply sat on the ground, as Freeman had, and waited – like these three, two with protest signs:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

And so on down the line it went – the 22 who were eventually arrested, sitting in pairs or trios, or alone (this is a still photo, not a video clip):


Right after that clip, as police talked with the second sign-holder, we switched angles – this scene is interesting for a few things: For one, notice the continuous chopper drone; at least one TV news helicopter was overhead for the duration. For two, note that for some of the officers, it was a whole lot of standing around “just in case.” For three, 28 seconds in, that’s Mayor Nickels’ communications director Robert Mak in an orange safety vest, walking through the scene; he and a member of his staff, Karin Zaugg Black, were there for the duration, though the mayor himself was nowhere in sight:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

Throughout the operation, there were more than a few lulls. In this next clip, the voice you hear is a gentleman ranting about bed bugs at shelters; I then turned the camera around to show the 360 of little pockets of activity, ending on a sign left on one of the pink tents:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

Arrests continued, just as quietly as the ones in the earlier clips; occasionally someone would shout, “Thanks for goin’ to jail, guys!” This next clip documents two arrests a little more closely – two men sitting on the ground, huddling briefly (prayer? strategy?), an officer speaking with them, then one gets up and walks away, the other is advised he’s trespassing, he too gets up, and walks away with officers, as, again, someone calls a farewell off camera:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

As police got closer and closer to the camp’s west entrance, where some of the more permanent structures were, a few people began to shout angrily, though not in proximity to the officers. A few pulled out VA cards to show they were veterans, and one hollered for a moment or two:
(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

Once police had swept the entire site, mayoral spokesperson Zaugg Black and police spokesperson Officer Mark Jamieson gave official statements to the media. Here’s what she had to say:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

Officer Jamieson, meantime, gave the official arrest count, 22, and noted the site would be watched even once it was cleared:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

As Jamieson and Zaugg Black finished answering questions, I noticed Southwest Precinct Sgt. Jeff Durden a few yards away, walking down the slope to the parking lot with the much-photographed “NICKELSVILLE” sign in hand, without video cameras tailing him:


That sign had been next to a flag, which two men were carefully folding in the parking lot a few minutes later:


Also in the parking lot, a conversation we listened in on – didn’t get their names, but it clearly had followed some of the reported information about the state allowing campers to stay on their property for a few more days:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

What will happen next? We’ll keep checking. All three 34th District legislators – the district that includes West Seattle – have signed a letter posted here and dated today, calling for the mayor to negotiate with groups advocating for homeless people.

20 Replies to ""Nickelsville": What's next, and what the sweep was like"

  • mimi September 27, 2008 (12:08 am)

    Here is a quote that appears in an article online from “Real Change” the homeless paper:

    Leo Rhodes, who has been homeless for more than 20 years and active in the Nickelsville initiative, reminded everybody how Tent City started in the face of earlier city sweeps. “They said [Tent City] was not going to happen and look now…. This is just the beginning.”

    I again ask the media to research this and ask the tough questions. Leo Rhodes has lived in Tent City 4 since it began in May 2004 and prior to tha he lived in Tent City for 4-5yrs. Homeless in America for 20 yrs? I’m sorry but if you are able to be an “activist” and living rent free in a tent then you are able to work and pay rent. These people are playing on the emotions of hard working and decent people. If Leo Rhodes is homeless for 20 yrs then I am sorry to say that it has become a lifestyle choice for him.
    Please, check into these people being interviewed. All is not as it seems.

  • Alcina September 27, 2008 (8:46 am)

    TR, The person in your last video who is wearing the striped shirt and purple-ish sweater is Michael Ramos, Executive Director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

    The Church Council has a long history of advocacy and has programs that help the homeless. It isn’t any surprise that in the Legislators’ letter that they asked the Mayor to negotiate with the Church Council.

  • DK September 27, 2008 (8:54 am)

    Bravo Mimi!!! You are absolutely correct! I am sure there are people at this pink tent city that may truly be in dire straights financially, but I can bet that most there are not…it’s a life style choice for most and they use that to further their agenda. There really are homeless all over the country…not just here in Seattle. The problem is the “professional homeless”. This particular issue will never really go away becaue as you put it, the media will never really check into the people they “interview”…the media only wants news it can sensationalize so that it can attract the fish to bite on their hook, including the WSB I’m afraid. Being homeless for 20 yrs…good grief…and people actually buy into that…

  • WSB September 27, 2008 (9:08 am)

    DK, we were there because pretty much we had to be. This happened in West Seattle – hundreds of people are involved – police and the city. Our job is to show what’s happening, and like it or not, media circus and all, this was happening. Our coverage presents “here’s what happened” and I take great care to show a variety of angles – here’s the direction the cameras were all turned, here’s what you saw if you looked the other way – that’s why I prefer to show “raw video” clips rather than put things together in a TV-style “package” where you see a couple seconds of each scene and have reporter narration – this allows you to see more of what happened. And if you read the copy in this report carefully, I don’t label anyone who was arrested as “homeless,” because I don’t know and I had no way to check. “Campers,” yes, that’s a fact – they were participating in the camp. Can’t speak for how anybody else covered it but what you see on this page is about as factual as it gets. This is the style in which I usually work – “here’s what happened/is happening, judge for yourself.” And when possible … we add links that people can follow to further investigate. (For example, anyone interested in Anitra Freeman and her background probably won’t find her blog linked in most other reports about this.) – TR

  • WSB September 27, 2008 (9:18 am)

    Alcina, thank you. The huddle we stuck our camera into for that clip was NOT a “press conference” type situation – and without interrupting it, I had no way to get names from the participants. (The man talking about “respect,” though, was recognized when I showed Patrick the video while working on this – he didn’t know the man’s name but said that during two of his previous visits to the camp, the man accused him of being a “police snitch” for no apparent reason – maybe because Patrick had showed his media credential, which is SPD-issued, standard fare for local reporters/photographers, on his original visit to the camp, long before most of the rest of the media swooped in.)

  • mimi September 27, 2008 (9:20 am)

    WSB-I in know way meant to imply there was inaccuracy in your coverage, only to aks that those coming to this site or reading/watching in other media dig a little deeper and not take Nickelsville or their residents on face value.
    I realize you are reporting on the moment and that things happened quickly, but the MSM has reported on these Tent Cities before, as Seattle has a lengthy history of involvement with SHARE/WHEEL activists that brought us Tent City 3 & 4. The individuals being reported on by the MSM are known to them and yet they continue to report with great inaccuracy.
    Thank you for your coverage and this forum.

  • Jo September 27, 2008 (9:20 am)

    Great reporting (as usual), WSB.

  • mimi September 27, 2008 (9:27 am)

    Also, in the last video, the first man speaking ( who mentions respect) is Scott Morrow (google him with SHARE/WHEEL). He is the man behind SHARE/WHEEL. He runs both their indoor shelters as well as Tent City 3 & 4. The large indian man to his left is Leo Rhodes. Leo (as reported above in the Real Change) has been homeless for 20 yrs, living for 9 of those years in Tent City 3 & 4. Leo is a treasurer for SHARE/WHEEL. Michael Ramos of the Greater Church Council of Seattle is the final man speaking and he is very familiar with Scott Morrow and gang as he has worked with them in the past. Michael Ramos and the Church Council have been on the side of SHARE/WHEEL and involved on their behalf in lawsuits with other cities for years.
    None of this happened by accident. It was well planned out and in the works for awhile.
    SHARE/WHEEL and Scott Morrow have wanted to duplicate the Portland model of Dignity Village. Free public land where the homeless move in and never move out.

  • Bruce September 27, 2008 (10:49 am)

    Why can’t the Church Council and others raise money to buy or arrange for somebody to donate a small farm and then the homeless could set up a legal commune on their own land and grow crops, raise animals, cook community meals, and become self-sufficient, etc? I think the Bible talks about teaching a man to fish…

  • WSB September 27, 2008 (11:02 am)

    Mimi – you left another comment that I have to delete because it directly cuts and pastes somebody else’s content. Blogs are copyrighted just like newspapers, etc. If you want to repost that comment with a link to the site (not the cut-and-pasted content), you are welcome to (the link wasn’t included so I couldn’t even edit the comment to just show the link). FYI for all, same goes with photos. You can’t just lift something off a website without permission. LINKS are great – sometimes even a line or two of quote and then “read the full entry at (link)” – but not cut-and-paste. Thanks … TR

  • Jo September 27, 2008 (11:47 am)

    From Mimi: “but if you are able to be an “activist” and living rent free in a tent then you are able to work and pay rent.”
    How do you know that the gentleman you’re referring to is able to hold a job, and pay rent? Would you hire him? How do you know that he doesn’t view his ‘activism’ as his calling in life, or his ‘job’? He/they got your attention, didn’t they?
    It’s too easy to judge those who have made ‘lifestyle choices’ that perhaps wouldn’t be acceptable to us.
    Until you have walked in their shoes…….

  • mimi September 27, 2008 (11:52 am)

    “WSB” Sorry-here is the link to the quote by Leo Rhodes (20yrs homeless) it can be found here at Real Change:

    Shortcut to:

  • justme September 27, 2008 (2:01 pm)

    West Seattle Blog; You have done a fantastic job covering this story. I use to have generalized ideas about the homeless until I began reading here when it all started. After a couple of days reading, learning, and gathering my own opinions/feelings, I loaded up my truck and took a donation there. I even had the opportunity to speak with several of the homeless people. They were welcoming, gracious and very informative. It’s been eye opening and I am grateful to WSB for offering this in a very non-judgemental non-sensationalized way. We can say things like, “it’s all the choices they’ve made.” But, for anyone in a society to choose to live out in the elements without many necessities, something is wrong and it needs to be addressed with compassion whatever it may be.

  • J September 27, 2008 (3:01 pm)

    I’m also with Mimi. Anyone who chooses to live their life differently for *20 YEARS* (can you believe it?!) surely deserves to be forced and coerced into another way of life. I think the police department should use more of its resources crack down on homeless people, if only just to remind them that being homeless isn’t easy and certainly isn’t free.

  • Alki September 27, 2008 (5:13 pm)

    I talked to Leo last week. He is trying to raise awareness for the issue now. He is also one of the folks who helps RUN tent city.

    Get your facts straight, Mimi!






  • Anitra September 27, 2008 (5:14 pm)

    TR, it seems that both the campers and our critics think you have had the best and clearest coverage of Nickelsville. That is a major achievement. You are a real journalist and I’m glad to have met you.

  • mimi September 27, 2008 (9:52 pm)

    Leo Rhodes has been quoted in the papers and on television for years now saying that he is “homeless.” FACT
    Leo Rhodes has been a resident of Tent City 4 since it began in May 2004. FACT
    If Leo Rhodes chooses to be an activist and believes in what he is doing, more power to him but as tax paying citizens, we should not have to PAY for his lifestyle choice of being homeless so he can go out an be an activist for free.

  • acemotel September 28, 2008 (2:06 am)

    Mimi has an issue because someone is homeless for 20 years? What is Mimi doing to solve the difficult problem of homelessness in Seattle. It’s a fact that the number of homeless people in this city and country has increased dramatically in the last ten years. No other developed country in the world has homeless people begging on street corners and sleeping in alleys and doorways like animals. Yes, the phenomenon can be seen in third-world countries, economies that are too ravaged to extend to social services. This is what is happening in the United States of America, the greatest country on earth. For cryin’ out loud, people like Mimi need to get out from behind their keyboards. Running a one-woman campaign against a housing advocate is doing exactly nothing to honor the dignity of human beings or improve life for the human race. Pathetic.

  • Jo September 28, 2008 (10:00 am)

    Right on, acemotel.
    I respect Lee Rhodes, and others like him, for standing up and working hard for the plight of homeless people.
    Mimi, maybe you need to get off the “my G*d, 20 years homeless,” mantra.
    Instead, how about if you look a homeless person in the eyes, and greet them with a smile. You don’t need to give them money, just the dignity they deserve as human beings. Try to remember that each and every one of them have a first and last name, have/had a mother and father, maybe sisters and brothers, aunts/uncles, grandparents. And everyone of these homeless people has a story as to the reason for their homelessness. Often the homeless community is the only ‘family’ a street dweller has.
    Years ago I volunteered with the now defunct “Strand Helpers,” a ragtag group, that ran a free ‘feed’ out of Occidental Square every morning. Although I worked fulltime during the week, I’d go down to Occidental on Saturday or Sunday mornings to help out. Believe me, it wasn’t pretty. I learned lots during those times, the most important thing being DO NOT JUDGE, I am not superior to any one of them, and quite possibly just one step away from being there myself. I learned to always look the homeless person in the eyes, smile, and greet them with a “Good Morning,” or “have a nice day.” I never give them money, will sometimes buy them food, but ALWAYS treat them with dignity.
    Try it, Mimi, maybe you’ll find out how easy it is, and how responsive a homeless person can be to a little kindness.

  • mimi September 28, 2008 (12:12 pm)

    Name calling and making such assumptions are a way to detract from the facts. Doing so usually means your argument is an emotional one.
    Union Gospel Mission and Congregations for the Homeless are two wonderful organizations that deserve are support. They do a great deal by providing transtional services to the homeless that assist them in breaking the cycle of homelessness. Congregations for the Homeless offers life coaching. A life coach will follow the individual during their stay and assist them into transitional housing as well as coach them through finding a job.
    Both programs required something of those that they serve and therefore don’t all one to just sit in a tent and call themselves activists all the while expecting the tax payers to foot the bill.
    There are great opportunities to help out both of these programs by serving meals, volunteering for life coaching or simply making a financial contribution.
    There is ample opportunity to meet the homeless being served and speak with them, which Jo, would include a “Good morning” or “have a nice day.” These men and women are always appreciative.
    Such organizations deserve are support as they have a proven track record of helping the homeless, unlike SHARE/WHEEL which simply shoves them in tents.

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