EDITOR’S NOTE: West Seattle Forum members have taken a special interest in the encampment that calls itself Nickelsville, since its return last May to the West Seattle site where it was founded three years ago, volunteering and donating. Among them are Joanne Brayden and Kevin McClintic, who have reported previously on events at the site. It’s been a while since their last story, so for those who are interested in what’s happening with that site – including two City Council meetings this week that may decide issues of importance to the encampment – here’s their newest contribution.
(One of the new “simple, sturdy structures” at Nickelsville)
Story by Joanne Brayden
Photos by Kevin McClintic
Special to West Seattle Blog
If you have driven by Nickelsville lately, in southeastern West Seattle, you may have noticed some changes. They have added a second gate on West Marginal Way, expanded into a second in-camp “neighborhood,” built a few more living structures, and this week, thanks to generous gravel donations from West Seattle residents, they have begun work on common pathways, to make them safe and as dry as possible this winter.
Like all communities, they are having a few growing pains as they figure out how to make their expanded neighborhoods work, but the contrast between the tents dumped in an open field in May and the community they have created is evidence that their process is producing results.
With so many people showing up on their doorstep, they have had to expand past their original encampment toward the east end of the property and have moved their communal services and the second entrance to the center of the camp for easier access.
Donors are encouraged to use the entrance that is most comfortable for them. The mid-camp entrance on Highland Park Way has a bridge over the drainage ditch and stairs on the street side that directly access the main security tent where donations are received, (look for the US flag flying on the berm). The parking-lot entrance on Highland Park Way has steps on both sides of the berm and a brand-new gravel walkway leading into the camp that might be more comfortable for those who want to visit while dropping off donations (look for the park-and-ride lot and the stairway with the colorful fence).
The communal structures for storing food, kitchen supplies and donations, portable toilets, and the main security tent where visitors sign in and donations are received are now in the center of the camp to better service both neighborhoods. The old kitchen tent has been supplemented with a new kitchen structure so they now have two 10×20 foot dry storage areas for food, kitchen supplies and donations.
When you walk into camp, it is easier every day to visualize the self-sustaining community they hope to build there.
Nickelsville has always planned to create two neighborhoods in West Seattle (one is shown above) – one for tents that would top out at about 150 people, and another for the personal living structures – but the increasing homeless population and the limited accommodations for couples, the refusal of other shelters to keep families together and to allow pets has accelerated demand for space at Nickelsville. Most of those who end up camped there literally have no other place to go if they wish to keep their marriages and their families intact.
Lately, there has been an influx of women. Although the other tent cities in King County do accept some couples, their space is limited, and if transitional housing isn’t available, pregnant women have no choice but to move to Nickelsville or live on the streets as their due date approaches.
I attended the Nickelsville Central Committee meeting held at SHARE headquarters downtown on Wednesday and was provided with an estimated headcount for that day: approx 140+ individuals (roughly 100 males and 40 females) , about 5 families, 10 or so children ranging from 2 months to 16 years, around 23 couples, 16 cats, 7 dogs, and 2 goats.
They are housed in tent spaces that now max out at 8’X8’ for single people and 10’x10’ for couples and families (there is an exception for personal tents purchased prior to early July). There are currently about half a dozen single and double wooden personal living structures, but most residents live in closely placed rows of tents that may or may not be elevated on a pallet platform. The goal is to limit those residing in tents to 150, but they may have to put more people in tents than they intended. Although the community has been generous, there is a critical need for building supplies to build more structures.
I asked how structures are allocated and found that living in one of the reasonably warm and dry structures is a matter of chance. Everyone who works on a structure is eligible to enter their name into a drawing for that structure. The lucky recipient is then allowed to move in and add luxuries like hooks for belongings and curtains on windows (each structure has windows for ventilation) and a chair or two and small rugs. There isn’t much room. The wooden structures considered the ultimate in luxury at Nickelsville are smaller than most backyard sheds.
In spite of challenging living conditions, Nickelsville manages to be a peaceful community. One of their camp rules is that they have to get along, and surprisingly, for the most part, they do. As one of the participants at Wednesday’s Central Committee meeting pointed out, most of the campers, who come from all walks of life, met for the first time the day they moved into Nickelsville. They are united in their thankfulness for the generosity of our community and opportunity that has provided to make something of themselves. They are definitely not afraid of hard work.
Nickelsville houses a diverse group: Ages range from infants to the elderly, work backgrounds from day laborers to degreed professionals, and nationalities that span the globe.
While at the recent Nickelsville birthday party pig roast, one of the volunteers mentioned that he had been trying to help a local acquaintance with some legal issues but had language difficulties. It took less than 5 minutes to find a willing translator for him in the camp. I have found carpenters, tile setters, roofers, gardeners, teachers, accountants, house cleaners, legal experts, nurses and a host of others who are more than happy to lend a hand and welcome the opportunity to be of use to the greater community.
I have asked repeatedly what one thing they would want West Seattle to know about them, and consistently the answer is the same. They want you to know that they care about community; both their own and the larger community. They ask for our patience as they figure out the best way to make their community work within the context of ours. And… they ask for our support.
The City Council is deciding some critical issues for Nickelsville this week. They could waive fees for non-secular encampments (Monday, Oct 24, 3:15 PM), which would be a great help to Nickelsville. They could also allocate some of the funds I understand to be available from the Sunny Jim insurance settlement to water and sewer for Nickelsville (Tuesday, Oct 25, 10:45 AM) once they are granted permanent status. Both hearings are in the Council Chambers at City Hall (600 4th Avenue downtown, 2nd floor).
You can support Nickelsville by e-mailing city council members or by attending the meetings.
You can also donate. West Seattle donors have been generous, but there is still a need for warm coats and hats and gloves and bedding. . They need personal supplies like soap and toothbrushes and toothpaste and deodorant. They need canned meats and other proteins of any kind, especially those which can be spread on their generous bread donations (smaller serving sizes work best). They need what you would need if you were camping outdoors this winter.
You can visit. The camp recently rewrote their donor policies to make it easier to connect with residents even if you don’t already know someone there. They want you to know you are welcome. Whether you choose to stay and lend a hand is always up to you.
Nickelsville is located in the south of the intersection of Highland Park Way and Marginal Way.