City won’t boot, or provide utilities to, ‘Nickelsville,’ Highland Park Action Committee told

(September photo by Kevin McClintic)
Six months after its return to a city-owned site at West Marginal Way SW/Highland Park Way, the encampment that calls itself Nickelsville is in a sort of limbo – legal, and otherwise.

After the Highland Park Action Committee‘s meeting last night, following up on a discussion that began at its October meeting (as reported here), it seemed clear that the city does not currently intend to either:

*Evict the encampment
*Provide services (water/sewer/power hookups) that would make the site more habitable

You can watch the meeting yourself, if you’d like to see how it all played out:

Context for the meeting was a letter sent to the city by HPAC, as co-chairs Carolyn Stauffer and Billy Stauffer explained at the start of last night’s meeting. As the letter began, “In the past, our organization has been supportive of Nickelsville as a temporary situation. With news of this potentially becoming a permanent settlement, we have begun to hear a lot from our friends and neighbors.” HPAC says that the “burden of homelessness” should be shared with the rest of the city and suggests that this encampment, like others in the city, could switch sites every six months or so.

The issue drew a crowd to the meeting, including City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith, and Lisa Herbold from Councilmember Nick Licata‘s office.

Smith noted that the McGinn administration has a “different relationship” with Nickelsville and the issue in general than his predecessor – who evicted the original encampment – and that Smith had been asked to review the entire issue citywide.

He went into the background of how Nickelsville decided on its own to leave Fire Station 39, where it could have stayed longer, and moved onto the spot where it is now. (Nickelsville representatives later said they moved because the fire station was too small. The site where they are now is where the encampment began in 2008, with more than a dozen moves following before they returned to this site, which the city had once considered for a new jail, against which HPAC had led the fight.)

Smith said the administration is wrestling with the issue of what to do about encampments like this one – and others, in greenbelts, etc. “There is no legal pathway for them to be on (that site) right now. Land use would have to be changed. We would have to create a new terminology in the Land Use Code for that to be a legal place for them to be.” He said the council is expected to look at the code next spring, to see if there is a place in it for this kind of encampment. (He mentioned he’s kept up on Nickelsville in ways including reading WSB.) But he said “we need to have the conversation” whether a place like this should and could exist. “I’m not here to say this is going to be easy, simple, or that we have a perfect plan.”

Right now, he said, they can’t issue a permit for the encampment, because it’s not a “legal use.” So, asked an attendee, how could the mayor just say they could stay there (as first reported here when we asked the question shortly after their return)? Smith didn’t directly answered the question but said they had no warning that’s where they were going, and now they are trying to create a “clear set” of procedures/rules to govern encampments.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen spoke next (starting about 26 minutes into the video). He drew some applause for saying he believes encampments should be temporary, not permanent. He also said the problem should be shared not just by different neighborhoods, but more widely; he says Seattle draws more homeless people because it is known as a “compassionate city.”

Frustrated neighbors spoke as well. If the land-use code doesn’t allow this kind of use, why are city officials “not doing their job?” one asked. To the city officials’ point of why eviction seemed infeasible, one woman pointed out that Occupy Seattle had been booted from Westlake Park downtown. City reps, meantime, said it was more an issue of where the Nickelsville residents would go, since the city’s shelter beds are maxed out every night with another 1,700 people sleeping on the streets.

Representatives of Nickelsville, including residents, were there too, for the entire discussion. They presented a letter of their own, saying they didn’t think the site could eventually hold 1,000 people after all, and also saying they had found other placements for the families with children who had been in the camp recently. There were voices in support of them as well – Joanne Brayden, who said she volunteers at the encampment virtually every day. Former HPAC chair Dorsol Plants noted the dichotomy of eastern West Seattle having both this debate over an unofficial encampment and over “official” housing for homeless people (alluding to the Delridge controversy over the DESC proposal to build 75 apartments to take people out of homelessness). He also called attention to the fact that the residents include combat veterans.

But in the end – it still came down to, nothing is expected to change any time soon. Even in the waning moments, Councilmember Rasmussen was suggesting concerns be taken to the mayor’s office, and Deputy Mayor Smith, feet away, was saying they’d be happy to “work with the council.” (He also said earlier that he had sent a warning letters of sorts to Nickelsville saying the city had not fully studied the site in terms of environmental factors and could not speak to what the site’s soil might contain.)

The issue of the city’s supply of shelter beds, by the way, is scheduled for discussion the next time the council’s Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee – of which Rasmussen is a member – meets, on December 14th.

29 Replies to "City won't boot, or provide utilities to, 'Nickelsville,' Highland Park Action Committee told"

  • Cclarue December 8, 2011 (5:03 pm)

    The best answer the Deputy mayor had as far as any help goes was to look the religious orginizations for help as the limit on time they are allowed to house encampments has been lifted. What that says to me is the city isn’t going to help anytime soon.

  • Cclarue December 8, 2011 (7:30 pm)

    Having spent time down inside of Nicklesville in the good weather and the bad weather this is a rough place to be as far as comfort goes but a safer place to be than alone on the streets. For those opposed to the encampment staying longer how are these people at n ville negatively affecting your life? This is a sincere question because our country and our state and our city are unable to immediatly help these people. I think the city of Seattle is quietly saying..”we can’t serve all of the people without shelter” and they are on their own. So they attempt to help themselves and locals say you can stay but only briefly… The city is looking to churches to help funny how they are supposed to be separate until the city needs them.. I think we all need to try to get involved in a real solution rather than complaining about a situation that is not going away anytime soon. Our economy is not good and not going to be good anytime soon. So a better question is what can we do as citizens????

  • Scandinavian December 8, 2011 (7:52 pm)

    The homeless encampment they call Nickelsville.

    Mayor Nickels had more compassion for “down on their luck individuals” than many of you, or the WS Blog will ever acknowledge.

    Perhaps they should change the name to: The West Seattle Homeless Encampment.

    Naming it after a mayor gets old. Even McGinn would not like that encampment named after him, it seems.

    I will forever be upset at WS Blog and friends for allowing the trashing of a decent man, and West Seattleite, Mayor Nickels.

    Enough said.

  • CB December 8, 2011 (9:56 pm)

    What’s up with the anti Greg Nickels agenda on this blog? Every week another article about this homeless camp and their derogatory use of his name. Seriously, this needs to end.

  • BMC December 8, 2011 (10:03 pm)

    I drive by there on my way home from work and it makes me sad to think of people trying to get by in the cold and dark. Have you ever camped in the summer and maybe the temperature dips lower than you expected? Perhaps into the 50’s? I wonder that it would feel like to sleep with temps in the 40’s, 30’s or 20’s?

  • JanS December 8, 2011 (11:26 pm)

    To Scandinavian and CB…The West Seattle Blog did not create the name “Nickelsville” The people who started the encampment did. You who are condemning the editor of this blog are way off base. Simmer down, for Pete’s sake! If you want the name changed, please go to Nickelsville and make your case there. And in the future, be sure of your facts before you make an a$$ out of yourself.!

  • Cclarue December 9, 2011 (5:20 am)

    This story has nothing to do with bashing Greg Nickles!! When talking of city leadership the mayor in our city is Mcginn who is the current mayor and like Jan said the camp named itself. Years ago. The blog is reporting on something and using the proper name of the subject. The WS blog was the only news crew at the HPAC meeting so you would not be reading any of this info without them. So maybe a thank you is in order rather than an out of left field rant pointed at the wrong folks. If you have an issue with the camps name contact the leadership there. Who is different from the residents of the camp.

  • yarncore December 9, 2011 (9:53 am)

    They call themselves this based on events that happened early in their formation. No one reporting the story is slamming the former mayor by using the group’s name. So confused with comments on here sometimes, especially when they don’t seem to make any sense.

  • DBurns December 9, 2011 (9:54 am)

    I share the question posed by Cclarue: how are they hurting anyone? I am a HP homeowner who drives downtown every day at least once, as well as to Burien, the Waste Station, 99, 509, etc. I never even see the residents. I can barely see the camp! My husband still has never seen it! What is the big deal? Maybe if it were more visible, people would have more compassion! I’ve been in a few times to drop donations and I sincerely cannot imagine any person in their right mind denying these folks the safe, organized, community that is Nickelsville. What’s the real problem? What is the “burden”???

  • datamuse December 9, 2011 (11:06 am)

    Sounds like CB is a bit fixated. As a West Seattle resident who lives just up the hill from Nickelsville and drives past it daily, I’m glad to hear about what’s going on there and possible ways to help out.

  • mcbride December 9, 2011 (11:23 am)

    Nickelsville (both the name and circumstances) has some interesting historical perspective in Seattle:
    There are three factors contributing to the current situation:
    1) The City of Seattle is out of room. For an encampment the size of this one, there are very few locations within the city that it can actually go. We are out of open space (which does not include land owned by the Parks department and Schools for the purposes of this discussion). There aren’t many (any?) churches large enough within city limits to house an encampment of this size (the laws which changed allowing long term citing on church property happened at the state, not city level, by the by: Eviction is, has been and will remain an option. But where will they go? This is an important question because,
    2) The City of Seattle is Broke. Right now, this encampment isn’t costing the city much, which is good, because we can’t pay for anything. Eviction is actually very expensive. It’s a far more complicated process than the kerosene solution of the 30’s (which also didn’t work). The current situation is near to ideal for the city – the encampment self-regulates, maintains standards in cooperation with and has a direct line of communication to officials and the neighborhood, and is not currently generating any lawsuits (none that I’m aware of anyway). It’s stable, and it’s cheap. This is an important consideration because,
    3) The City of Seattle has an unsustainable model. The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness ( will not meet the target date. Not in ten years. Probably not in fifteen. Maybe not in twenty. Or, you know, ever. Because, while we’re out of space, we offer more services than anyone in the region. Which means that we will remain a destination location. I don’t mean to state this as a negative thing, I believe very strongly that we’re all in this together, that we will be known by the compassion we show, and that social services are, in the long run, cheaper to provide than withhold. But. Seattle cannot afford to continue as the primary regional service provider. We don’t have the room, we don’t have the cash, and my observation is that we’re quickly running out of tolerance (as a whole). While solving for end result, we are cutting or not funding our safety net programs which may prevent the situation from occurring in the first place, and increasingly, they go on to die a quiet death ( We are establishing a self perpetuating cycle, and it isn’t trending positive.
    Perhaps this isn’t a City of Seattle issue, this is a King County issue. It needs a long term sustainable solution, and for that it may need to be addressed and funded cooperatively by the region and not single cities. While the County is already involved, perhaps it needs to take the lead role.
    Meanwhile, the City cannot ignore responsibility in this matter. I accept the (non) position of the City regarding the encampment. However, I do not accept the lack of response to downstream impacts, specifically, the massive uptick in population in the greenbelt. While there is an open dialog channel, the neighborhood and the encampment have opportunities for partnership. Not so greenbelt area, and that needs to be addressed.

    • WSB December 9, 2011 (11:35 am)

      Thanks, McB. This is one of the thoughtful, observant comments shared here daily that helps me explain to people why we don’t follow the olden-days model of writing and publishing institutional editorials (or “man on the street reaction”) … there are people in our community who can and do take the time to share far more thoughtful, historically grounded analysis, opinion, and observation than we ever could. More than “comments,” really, but we haven’t come up with a better name yet … TR

  • Cclarue December 9, 2011 (11:45 am)

    Thank you Mcbride!!!!! That is so spot on!!

  • Jim P. December 9, 2011 (12:40 pm)

    “So a better question is what can we do as citizens????”

    An even better question is what can they do to help themselves?

    How much time does the average inhabitant spend looking for work each day?

    > 4 hours, less than one hour, ~0?

    How much time do they spend studying for skills that would improve their ability to find work?

    > 4 hours, less than one hour, ~0?

    How much time does the average resident spend panhandling each day?

    ~0, < 1 hour, more than four hours?

    What is the percentage of them who spend money they don't have on cigarettes and liquor?

    ~0%, less than 10%, greater than 75%?

    I suspect the answer is "c" for all these questions.

    I have no objections to helping out someone down on their luck, I do object to providing them with a permanent lifestyle at my expense if they are not actively, intensively engaged in digging themselves out of the hole they are on.

  • datamuse December 9, 2011 (2:21 pm)

    Well, I dunno, Jim. Why don’t you go down there and ask them? If you can find any residents who don’t find your line of questions insulting.
    (Hint: some of them are employed.)

  • CS December 9, 2011 (2:40 pm)

    Can someone clarify for me why, more specifically, the Sunny Jim site was rejected by the council? Was it rejected only because the site’s zoned industrial and it would therefore be illegal for an encampment to be there (the mayors office sent an illegal option to the council)? and will that Land Use Code discussion the council’s having this spring alleviate that snag and allow that option to become a reality? or is there something I’m missing? and where are the “alternatives” they’re reviewing?

  • Beth December 9, 2011 (4:37 pm)

    datamuse called Jim P’s questions “insulting” – so am I the only one who agrees they are valid?

    The “homelessness problem” has a lot of money thrown at it, and has been the subject of many studies – but the only answers to the question of “why” some people are homeless is that it’s “a complex problem with several factors.” I believe this is code for “we don’t know.” I know some of it is due to Mental Illness – blame Reganonmics and the ACLU in equal parts for that, but what about the mentally stable homeless? Why are they homeless?

    I believe a few are suffering the overly harsh consequences of some poor life choices and that they have hope for a better future – thus aiding them is a good investment.

    But what about the people who are neither mentally ill nor working through and learning from past mistakes? People who just have no interest in being productive members of society. I believe this last group of homeless people represent at least half of all the homeless, and with them there is no “solution” just throwing good money after bad. So I’m loath to donate to this particular cause because I do NOT want to encourage the latter to “hang out” in my neighborhood, city, state or country.

  • JoB December 9, 2011 (6:41 pm)


    Life in Nickelsville isn’t the cushy living on the dole existence that many people envision. Simple survival is both time consuming and arduous.
    The residents of Nickelsvile wake up in the morning and find relief in the porta-potty on the hill.
    depending on the time, they have to wait their turn. There are only 4 for 100+ people.
    they can’t shower and shave before starting their day..
    the nearest public shower is either Southwest Community Center ($5) or Delridge community center ($3) or the Compass Center downtown ($0)
    Reaching any of those locations is either a very long time consuming walk or the cost of a bus pass…
    which mostly they don’t have unless they are donated.
    They heat water over a fire (if it isn’t raining too hard for the fire to stay lit) and make breakfast… if they have breakfast.
    Then they begin their daily chores which include policing the community, cleaning up the community, helping set up tents, carrying in donations, hauling bark dust, gravel and concrete bricks to make elevated pathways, chopping wood, etc ….
    they may or may not have a clean set of clothing to change into.
    They may or may not have a dry set of clothing to change into if they get drenched doing their chores.
    There is no warm dry place at Nickelsville to hang clothing to dry..
    and definately no place at Nickelsville to do laundry.
    The nearest laundry is either at 35th and Morgan or in White Center..
    again.. a very long time consuming walk or a bus pass plus the cost of doing laundry.
    There are limited laundry facilities downtown at the Compass Center that i think are free but you do have to stay with your laundry or it is likely to end up gone.
    a hot lunch is delivered every weekday at Nickelsville by the Operation Sack Lunch people at around 1PM.
    If they are not in camp for lunch, which may be their only meal of the day, lunch is not saved for them.
    it is dark by 4 PM and the nightly meeting is at 6PM.
    even in the very best of circumstances, if a resident has a bus pass and can access the compass center on a daily basis where there are resources for job counseling and job searches.. getting too and from possible interviews is difficult.
    it’s not impossible. Many of the camp’s residents work full or part-time jobs.
    Many more are registered with the local temp and day service agencies and work whenever there is work available.
    But it really isn’t easy.
    those residents who can’t work have regular medical appointments which consume entire days between transit and waiting.
    I have been in Nickelsville nearly every day since May and contrary to popular opinion,
    i have seen people use Nickelsville as a way station to move on to a better life.
    I have also seen people in Nickelsville search for jobs and/or services every day without any success at all.
    and yes, there is a much smaller percentage than you estimate of people who have given up on themselves for one reason or another and are content to do as little as they can to survive.
    even those people don’t get to sit around all day.
    survival in Nickelsville takes some pretty serious work.
    far from hanging out.. the people in Nickelsville are barely hanging in.
    if you don’t want to donate money or goods to Nickelsville, you might consider donating time.
    there is always someone in camp who could use help filling out a form, filing their taxes or connecting with loved ones.
    they can’t ask you for help..
    but you can always ask them if there is something you could do that would help them.
    even sharing a cup of coffee is reason for celebration.

  • mike December 9, 2011 (6:52 pm)

    How did my dad get by in the backwoods of Maine during winter as a kid, only a wood burning stove for heat…? Btw, Moses lake has very good manufacturing and Ag jobs available right now. BMW is putting in a carbon fiber plant there, partially funded by this state. I’d suggest any capable nicklesville patron try for those positions. Can’t hurt to try.

  • datamuse December 9, 2011 (7:15 pm)

    Beth, I called them insulting not because they aren’t valid, but because neither Jim (nor you, for that matter) have demonstrated that the assumptions inherent within them are valid. You believe that half of all homeless have no interest in being productive members of society. I believe you’re wrong. But neither of us has proof, and personally I’m cynical enough already without buying into your belief.

  • datamuse December 9, 2011 (7:16 pm)

    Oh, and you also believe we don’t know what causes homelessness?
    I rather believe we do.

  • JanS December 9, 2011 (8:03 pm)

    Beth..we all wish there were solutions. We all wish it were a perfect world, and that all who needed jobs had them. We all wish that the people living in a homeless camp had all the wherewithall to be looking for a job 4-8 hours a day (yes, clothing, internet, resume making skills, etc.) These people at NV have no electricity…they have no water..they have no roof over their heads, they have no heat. That is an immediate need, not a wish list. Whatever the circumstances, right now there are human beings in need..yet people will judge, and use it as an excuse to not give a damn! It is a fact of life that not everyone has it easy in life. You are lucky…I am lucky. So…if you aren’t interested in “those” kinds of people in your world, what exactly should the answer be? What would you suggest would be done?Or do you just want them somewhere else where you don’t have to hear about it, think about it, and be safe and cozy in your little world?

  • JanS December 9, 2011 (10:12 pm)

    mike..your dad in the backwoods of Maine had a wood stove, so I will assume he also had a structure to live in. The people at NV don’t have those luxuries..big difference. No roof, no wood stove, no heat, no electricity…sometimes no food (and the huntin’ ain’t very good down there in the industrial area.)

  • Mike December 10, 2011 (12:16 am)

    JanS, my point is that people can survive on little and be fine. Nobody is forcing anyone at ‘nicklesville’ to stay there. There are other areas in the USA (and outside the USA) where it’s far cheaper to live, there are jobs that pay enough to provide a quality standard of living, even at minimum wage. I highly suggest anyone in the nickelsville camp to look outside the Seattle / King County area. Grant County, WA has some of the cheapest electricity in the USA, low cost of housing, food is cheaper (crazy how living next to farms will do that), quality jobs available for people willing to work and have the capacity to do the work (anything from manual labor to bio sciences and aerospace engineering) and it’s actually nice over there.
    There are some individuals who have medical restrictions, I understand that, I will assume that the majority of people residing in Nickelsville are capable of working, so maybe moving to a location like Moses Lake, Quincy, etc… might be more ideal? Seattle is one of the most expensive cities to live in. We live here by choice, that’s the beauty of our country… nobody puts a gun to our heads and says ‘you, you live here and you work this job’.

  • JoB December 11, 2011 (8:22 am)


    some of the people in Nickelsville landed there fromthe Moses Lake area … looking for that opportunity you mention… here

    Cheap housing and cheap electricity are still unaffordable without a job and it’s pretty hard to get a job without an address.

    your dad survived in Moses Lake.. splitting his own firewood and I presume carrying his own water from a spring.

    So did my relatives in Oregon’s Blue Mountains….

    But the first thing they did was put up a cabin large enough to house their common area near a spring and installed an indoor heat source.

    There is a huge difference between the warmth provided by a heat stove sitting in the open and one protected by four walls.

    None of the living structures at Nickelsville have a heat source.

    Next time you think they will do just fine.. imagine your house gone and the only heat source a fire pit in the back yard…

    Yes, hopefully most of the people in Nickelsville will survive the winter…

    but there is a huge difference between surviving and thriving…

  • Creekside December 11, 2011 (11:37 am)

    @ mcbride – Thank you for summing up the big picture view of things and saying what needs to be said. So few are willing.

  • Mike December 11, 2011 (3:16 pm)

    JoB, my dad never lived in Moses Lake, I suggest reading closer next time.
    . <– affordable, even with minimum wage
    Yes, finding a job is a long process. Nobody says it’s easy. However, you do not need an address. We live in a digital age, provides all you’d need for free. You can access the Internet for free at the public library as well. It’s not that it cannot be done, it takes effort. For somebody living in conditions that are sub standard, you’d think they’d put that effort into getting a good job right? I’d hope they do, I hope they are.
    Are there people in Nicklesville who want work, hell yes. Are there people there living on handouts because it’s free… hell yes. To those there that are truly wanting to get out of there, I applaud them. For them I can suggest ideas of how to get out but it’s up to them to take the suggestions and run with them

  • MP December 11, 2011 (8:44 pm)

    How is it that these people of N ville struggle so much… Many just plain and simple down on there luck. Single parents with their kids with them at the camp….. Yes, how is it that these people that are actually trying to get out of this way of life are not the FIRST people that should be housed by DESC??? Oh that’s right, maybe they should all just become drug addicts so they can get apartments in DESC’s new Delridge project. I’m sorry, something is so horribly wrong in this city that a drug addict can get an apartment but a single parent in N ville can’t! Go down and talk to the kids at this camp they are innocent and yet somehow so resilient. This is a community not asking for much and getting so little. Thank you Merrill Gardens for hosting stuff the bus for N ville. Many donated items much needed and I’m sure much appreciated.
    Think about it: many, many people are only a few paychecks away of being forced to the streets or their car. I would much rather have my tax dollars go to helping these people than to DESC. Drug addicts should be last on the list. They chose the drugs and screwed up their own lives….

Sorry, comment time is over.