Followup: ‘Nickelsville’ encampment revisited, 5 months later

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.

37 Replies to "Followup: 'Nickelsville' encampment revisited, 5 months later"

  • CB October 23, 2011 (2:47 pm)

    Why is it not called McGinnville?

  • D. Brent October 23, 2011 (3:08 pm)

    While it is certainly interesting to learn about how this group has organized itself, I’m concerned about the tone of this article. One of the things I admire most about the West Seattle Blog is its professionalism and the veracity of its original reporting. This story reads like an opinion piece. It feels like pure advocacy without balance. It is affirming the way many in the community have come forward on a human level to help people in need. But the presentation of this story feels superficial and avoids bigger picture issues, not the least of which is whether the best solution for homelessness is a semi-permanent, extralegal settlement in the dusty corner of a Federal superfund site. If the homeless are in the best position to manage their own affairs, and I’m being asked to donate food, gloves and gravel, then maybe the City and County should stop collecting millions of dollars in taxpayer money on their solutions for homelessness that seem not to be working.

    • WSB October 23, 2011 (4:09 pm)

      D.Brent, not sure if I’ve made it clear enough. This is not a reporter-written piece. This is written by two members of the WSB Forums, who as explained in the story-preceding editor’s note, have taken an interest in Nickelsville, and have contributed stories previously. This is why the second line is “Special to West Seattle Blog” not “Reporting for West Seattle Blog.” Joanne and Kevin have contributed their work on a volunteer basis (when people are credited as “reporting for WSB,” they are paid journalists working on assignment from the editor, aka me). Yes, there are lots of other pieces to the homelessness puzzle. However, please note, we publish stories about a variety of efforts by a variety of nonprofit organizations. You could question whether any one of them is the best “solution” to whatever they are addressing. In this case, while there are no government funds involved that I know of, this group is so far using a piece of city property rent-free … a piece that was otherwise going unused (at one point it was considered as a city jail site, but the idea of building a new jail has been scrapped) – so if you don’t think they should be doing that, your councilmembers are the people to contact, and the mayor, who is the one – as we first reported shortly after the encampment’s return here – who said “We’re not going to move to evict them,” unlike the preceding mayor – TR

  • MargL October 23, 2011 (3:20 pm)

    And for folks who are willing and able to help there is apparently an immediate need for water:

  • Dorli Rainey October 23, 2011 (3:21 pm)

    This is an accomplishment to be really proud of. It shows what can be achieved by solidarity of committed people toward a single goal, SHELTER. A democratic community with rules established by the residents and administered equally. If only the city Council would realize this.

  • Amanda October 23, 2011 (4:44 pm)

    Every Monday, Goodwill has a $1.29 tag sale (every week a different color). If everyone spent just $5, we could get a complete outfit (including a coat) for one person at the encampment. Call it Nickel Monday. Is there a way to find out specific clothing needs?

  • West Seattleite October 23, 2011 (4:45 pm)

    Is there any data available to track the progress of the citizens of this camp? I am curious to learn how many members of this camp have found homes and become self sustaining since benefitting from staying there. Coversely, are there any members who have resided there full time since the occupation began?

  • Cindertang October 23, 2011 (5:39 pm)

    I think in these ever challenging economic times. each and every one us could end up needing a place like Nickelsville. It is good to know that people are helping each other and that the city is finally recognizing the needs of its own people that have fallen prey to this bad economy. Peace and love to all.

  • Scandinavian October 23, 2011 (6:06 pm)

    It should not be called Nickelsville.

  • Scandinavian October 23, 2011 (6:47 pm)


    The thing that bothers me, personally, about Nickelsville is the name. Yes, I realize this is your blog, and you call the shots. But, Greg Nickels is a West Seattle resident. You seem to abhor name calling, yet promote Nickelsville, with IMHO an inappropriate name.

    Mr. Nickels has helped many. I was once on the ropes. Big time. It was Mr. Nickels, West Seattle resident, that I will forever be thankful to.

    IMHO, you should be fair to ALL West Seattle residents. If I named something after you, or MIWS, or god forbid, kootch, I think there would be some fireworks.

    Good golly, my post was removed for saying “the Blob” was eating the Vashon Ferry.

    Bottom line. I think you should be consistant in your blog’s prohibition against personal attacks.

    Greg Nickels is a West Seattle resident.

    Now, ban me forever.

  • Sna October 23, 2011 (6:47 pm)

    “When you walk into camp, it is easier every day to visualize the self-sustaining community they hope to build there.”
    There are almost daily calls for donations and labor. What is the path to self sustaibability?

  • datamuse October 23, 2011 (7:22 pm)

    I get your point, Scandinavian, but what exactly are you suggesting that WSB do about it? That’s what the place is called. Are you saying it’s their job to insist that it be called something else? I don’t see how that follows.

  • velo_nut October 23, 2011 (7:24 pm)

    Agree… The name itself is a jab and uncalled for.

  • proudpugetridger October 23, 2011 (7:36 pm)

    Self-sustainability?? If asking for handouts because you’re simply not self-motivated enough to go out and earn a living then yes, you’ve reached your goals! Here’s an idea…get up early, work hard each and every day, then enjoy the fruits of your efforts.
    And yes, continuing to disrespect the Nickels family is shameful. You should all discuss the possibility of a name change…once you wake up tomorrow at the crack of noon!

  • Jiggers October 23, 2011 (8:42 pm)

    Ok.Nickelsville haters. Nickelsville was called that name for a very good reason. It won’t change and niether will the WSBlog for supporting its cause or stop calling it what it has become known as. Get a grip. If we have to regurgitate how Nickels handled the homeless situtation while in office. I will refresh your memories.

    • WSB October 23, 2011 (8:54 pm)

      Thanks, Jiggers, but we are not “supporting its cause.” WSB Forum members have been organizing volunteer and donation efforts. Separate from that, two of them worked on this story. They pitched me, I ran it. Anyone who would like to offer a story about a local nonprofit in West Seattle is welcome to pitch it too. We cover dozens of local nonprofits and other organizations, in ways big and small, sometimes reported by me or another team member, sometimes in a simple way such as a photo and a few lines about an event or a need that might originate from someone directly involved (and is always labeled as such). Back to the Forum – other nonprofit efforts are often discussed there too (animal-advocacy groups, for one, are particularly active there). Regarding the name, there’s nothing more to say. That’s its name. That’s how it is known. Its name appears in documents and stories and other communications from government and media organizations and community councils, among others. If we decided unilaterally to refer to it from hereon out as, oh, say, “the West Seattle Tent City,” people would say, “You mean Nickelsville?” The time for somebody to try to get them to change it was probably three years ago, but anyone who thinks it should be changed should go to the people running it and make the case. – TR

  • kevin October 23, 2011 (9:04 pm)

    How many readers remember “Hooverville?” And that name still stands today 70+ years later! And as a side note, I maintain they (NV) are NOT homeless! They have “homes” – the only difference between my / your home and theirs is that theirs is made of fabric. There is a LOT of pride of ownership and a true sense of community at Nickelsville. The structures in Hooverville were made of wood just like my house!
    The fire department later burned down Hooverville. Hope it never comes to that with NV! And NV is starting to adopt “simple sturdy structures” as we speak. And what is NV really doing?
    They are doing something that city, county, and state cannot currently seem to do. If you really do care – try asking your elected officials what the problem is? WHY can’t they provide a fix?
    Now let’s just help the the NV folks get some sewer and water and stand back and let them do what they have PROVEN over the past three years that they can do. And quite well I might add.
    I have seen a FEW “bums” in Nickelsville. Yes, there are a few, but WAY too many other folks who are well educated, with some even having masters degrees and PHD’s to their names.
    And MANY there DO have day jobs. Just not enough money to be able to put down a first and last on an apartment.
    They are all there because they simply hit a bump in life somewhere.
    It is MUCH easier to end up in Nickelsville than it is to get out of Nickelsville. For many residents, it is a matter of waiting for the economy to recover.
    See also:

  • Emmyjane October 23, 2011 (9:07 pm)

    Proof that not everyone homeless is lazy and doesn’t want to work to support themselves? Unemployment being at 5% before the great recession. When there were jobs, people worked them. I realize there are people working the system but don’t punish those that aren’t by automatically lumping them into the same bucket.

  • Amanda October 23, 2011 (9:11 pm)

    Wow, I hope that none of you ever loose your job, home, fortune, or health. Suffering is not only for the poor, apparently it’s also for the self-righteous who have no compassion for their fellow man. That hole inside you can close if you give to those less fortunate.

    Arguing the name of the place as an insult to Mayor Nickels and not feeling the same outrage that there are young kids there, is also an insult.

  • JanS October 23, 2011 (9:30 pm)

    Good Grief…this Blog and it’s forum did not give it the name of Nickelsville. Velo-nut, proud puget – etc. take your beef elsewhere. and PPR? Have you gone down there to help yet? Have you met the people who live there? Yes, I have..and I’ve broken bread with them. I was treated kindly…and I, for one, am tired of your assumptions. You haven’t a clue what you’re talking about !

  • JoB October 23, 2011 (9:41 pm)

    D brent… I agree. This piece was superficially written. I wanted to do much more though I would ask different questions than those you propose.
    Proudpugetridger.. ok. I bite. Aside from bounding out of their tents in the middle of that muddy field with no services of any kind and securing the jobs you think they should have.. how exactly do you propse they meet your definition of self sustaining?

    I agree that there are no easy answers

  • Rosanne October 23, 2011 (10:17 pm)

    FYI—- the west Seattle blog did not come up with the idea to name it Nickelsville. Please stop insisting that Tracy is responsible for that name!

  • JoB October 23, 2011 (10:22 pm)

    If there were easy answers there would be no people camped at nicklesville,
    I have been volunteering at nickelville for 5 months now and within the first week I started researching options. What I found appalled me. Many of the people in that camp literally have no other options.
    I am the first to admit that there are people with and without disabilities at nickelsville who consider me the worlds greatest chump for spending my time, attention and money there.
    But there are also those who quite literally may not have survived the summer in spite of their social security benefit checks and free medical and food stamps. It does no good to be eligible for subsidized housing if there is none available. People die waiting for their turn on those lists.
    the residents of nickelsville aren’t west seattle’s only homess people. Every day they walk among us mostly un-noticed. The sleep in alleys and in our parks often without the benefit of a tent, constantly fearful that someone will take everything they own or worse.
    Nickelville is a giant step up from the chos of the streets… but still a far cry from a roof over your head, utilities and a shower… luxuries that can give one applicant an edge over another in today’s tight labor market.
    I try to just report what is happening down there but it is inevitable that some of my admiration for what has been accomplished comes through. After all, I am down there often enough to see how much hard work goes into creating a safe community out of very limited. Resources.

  • tk October 23, 2011 (11:42 pm)

    I like the video I saw when they came back to W seattle a year ago and there was a woman who claimed only 2 people are still with the camp since leaving w. seattle the two years prior and there is a large turn-a-round. That is comforting to know that these people do move on :)

    If it weren’t for a little wealth in my grandmother helping to support my parents which help support my family with small children, I’d probably have lived there for a while too. In fact, my Grandmother lived in Hooverville when she came here during the great depression from the dust bowl.

  • bettybygosh October 24, 2011 (5:15 am)

    I am of the oppionion that if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. With our economy hitting an all time low, with millions world wide picketing and peacefully protesting for reform this situation could happen and is happening to more and more citizens. Look in your bank account, did you have to use it to live, your savings? How many couples have had to use up thier childrens college funds? Or have lost their retirements benefits due to greed? Have you checked your band and thier practices? Be careful, you too could end up living paycheck to paycheck, or worse losing your job and ending up on the streets.

  • ws1 October 24, 2011 (8:50 am)

    Homeless camp or local elementary school? Hard to tell the difference any more.

  • funkietoo October 24, 2011 (9:03 am)

    A timely Seattle Times article:

    Poverty report: What’s the cost of living?

    The opening paragraph: ‘ If you’re not barefoot and living in a mud hut, by some people’s calculations, forget it; you’re not really poor. But poverty, like wealth, is a relative concept that varies by context. In one place, someone who has a lot of goats is wealthy, but I don’t think that works in Seattle, for instance.’

  • JoB October 24, 2011 (9:21 am)

    If you mean it’s hard to set priorities… I agree.
    If you meant that it takes a lot of time and resources to help people whose lives and credt have been ruined by catatrophe..I agree.
    If you mean they are like kids and need someone else to make their decisions for them..I disagree.

  • proudpugetridger October 24, 2011 (12:53 pm)

    JanS, thank you for the kind words. Yes, I have gone down there, and yes…I’m entirely confident that I DO know what I’m talking about.
    JoB, I suggest they get jobs, pay taxes, live within their financial limits, and make a positive contribution to society.
    Bettybygosh, if being a responsible, taxpaying primary income provider for my family is wrong, then YES, I am part of the problem.
    ws1, right on!
    The worst part of this facade is that these squatters are actually taking resources that should be provided to folks who REALLY need help!
    Nickelsville has zero job-search support for their residents. Nickelsville has zero limits on the length of stay for the residents. Nickelsville has zero requirements for accounting for the resources they provide. Nickelsville has zero drug/alcohol addiction support mechanisms. …zero, nada, zilch! Can anyone specify one single homeless support organization with such open-ended “rules”?

  • have a heart October 24, 2011 (6:02 pm)

    Same tired old comments from proudpugetridger. I would say that they ARE making positive contributions to society by a) creating a safe environment in which to live b) not putting themselves on the streets where they would be susceptible to weather, crime and condescension from people who can’t understand their plight, and c) by setting an example of what can be done when a community bands together. “Living within their financial limits???” – with a minimum wage job (if that), no car, no fixed address with which to apply for jobs and credit reference for rental housing, i’m sure just living day-to-day itself is a challenge. It’s not like the banks are handing out credit cards to these people so they can live beyond their means. You are certainly not the problem but I’m sorry, your comments are neither helpful nor realistic.

  • JoB October 24, 2011 (8:28 pm)

    You are right. There are no services at nickelsville. None. Nada. Zip.
    Nickelsville won’t get any until the city recognizes them ..then they will become eligible for all of those services.
    that doesn’t stop full shelter services including those for women and children from referring their overflow to nickelsville.

    However there are a number of nickelsville residents who do individually take advantage of job search services and substance abuse counseling and mental health services and VA programs and..

  • JoB October 24, 2011 (8:37 pm)


    Btw ..if they get nothing
    How can they possibly be taking something from someone whole “needs” it?
    It’s up to you whether you choose to help..
    I understand if you don’t want to
    What I don’t understand is why you think you have the right to tell the rest of us we shouldn’t.

  • proudpugetridger October 25, 2011 (10:57 am)

    Free land and services from the City of Seattle is, indeed, something.
    I cannot believe one single recognized/established homeless support facility would recommend Nickelsville for its overflow clientele. I call Hogwash on that one! You see, people in the ministry of helping homeless folks know full well that providing a no-strings shelter simply enables and encourages inappropriate behavior. Teach a man to fish…
    Sorry for your confusion JoB. Of course you have the “right” to support whatever you choose. Forcing this encampment’s placement, in a neighborhood other than your own, is NOT your “right”–.
    So, I ask you… exactly who is the NIMBY now JoB??

  • funkietoo October 25, 2011 (2:18 pm)


    •Just because you don’t believe an accurate statement made by JoB, doesn’t mean her statement isn’t true.

    •NV is not a no-strings shelter. They have many strict rules, and if broken, there are consequences. I’m actually stunned at how harsh the consequences can be.

    •I am puzzled by the tone of arrogance, disdain, petulance and anger in your postings. You stated, ‘Forcing this encampment’s placement, in a neighborhood other than your own, is NOT your “right”. Do you live in the neighborhood? Is that why this topic seems to bring out the worst in you?

  • JoB October 25, 2011 (11:52 pm)

    you can choose to believe whatever you want but local shelters do refer overflow to nickelsville.
    I have been at nickelsville’s security desk when they have taken calls asking if there is room and if it wouldn’t violate the privacy of two families I could show you an email exchange verifying referrals from a well respected local agency to nickelsville.

    As for the crack about being some kind of nimby couldn’t be further from the truth. I not only hire nickelsville residents.. I and many others who volunteer there invite them to dinner.

    Better yet, they invite us to dinner.

    Nickelsville is in my neighborhood …

  • jeff November 8, 2011 (10:54 am)

    This makes me sad to see. I live in a warm house and have a business. A lot of people have this.
    I also have a van packed with clothes that I and customers have contributed to the cause- the cause of giving. Helping out those in need.
    No one should have to be cold or hungry in this world…… one.
    It is good these people and their loved ones have somewhere to go at least.

  • Aunt November 12, 2011 (10:57 am)

    I am a fan of the former Mayor Nickels, having known him when he was in high school. I know him to be a kind & generous person.
    I would like to see the encampment keep the name, but instead of being a slur, being a tribute that homeless people have a safe place to go where the community is generous & kind to them.
    Unfortunately homelessness will never be eradicated, hopefully we can assist and make life easier.
    I would like to know how to help, I have shelter I could offer on cold nights especially for the children, elderly & pregnant women, but am unsure how to go about the offer. I am in a tough spot myself and work multiple low paying jobs now to try & survive (economy ravaged my small business). So I understand the plight, but don’t have alot of free time.
    How does a person get invloved?
    P.S. I think where they are now is a good spot, I live nearby and have no complaints, I wouldn’t even know they were there if not for the news. They cause NO trouble. I just wish the building next to them could be donated to them.

Sorry, comment time is over.