The people of Nickelsville have a message for the rest of Seattle and the Puget Sound region. Thank you for caring. Thank you for the “show of love.”
Last week relentless rain flooded the homeless camp off West Marginal Way, not far from the 1st Avenue South Bridge. At least 30 tents – 30 homes – were soaked.
At the urging of KING 5 News and KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show, people donated clothing, boots, hats, gloves, food, and other supplies to the homeless community.
“It just shows that not everybody wants people like us pushed away and swept underneath the carpet.”
“It makes us feel like we actually are part of the community, and that people do recognize the fact that we’re here.”
“It’s saved my life and my wife’s life. It saved us from freezing to death out there.”
Those words of appreciation are from three Nicklesville residents I’ll introduce you to, but first a reminder of how the homeless camp started.
Advocates for the homeless set up about 150 bright pink tents on public land in September of 2008.
They wanted to draw attention to the needs of homeless people, and take a swipe at former Mayor Greg Nickels. They didn’t feel he was doing enough to help the homeless, and they dubbed their protest camp Nickelsville.
The encampment is supposed to remind people of Hooverville, the Depression-era shantytowns whose inhabitants blamed their economic troubles on President Hoover.
The first Nickelsville popped up in an industrial area near the Duwamish River, just east of where West Marginal Way Southwest meets Highland Park Way Southwest.
Homeless residents are back at that location now, but the return path has included more than a dozen other locations and just as many arrests of demonstrators over the years.
Their tent city has spent most of its time at various church sites, often staying for weeks or months at one location.
Nickelsville supporters have been working with current Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn to find a permanent site for their camp, but nothing has come through, so last year they moved back to their original location near the Duwamish River.
Mayor McGinn has not tried to evict them.
Elizabeth Iverson, wearing a blue sweater and hand-crocheted hat, sorts through bags of clothing dropped off at the camp over the past week.
“We have donations that I haven’t even gotten to yet, but I’ll get this organized so people can find what they need,” Iverson says. “It’s quite a show of love from the community.”
Iverson, 55, arrived at the camp in June after losing her job as a nurse in Snohomish County and then her house. Her only family is her cat and since shelters don’t take pets, she came to Nickelsville.
“It’s the last place on earth I thought I’d ever be,” she says. “I don’t know of anybody here who just wants to park here. Most people want to get a job and move on to more comfortable living arrangements.”
Between 70 and 100 people live in the highly-organized and well-run Nickelsville.
A woman in her 40s tells me “It’s a place to stay, but it’ll never be home.”
Dan Campbell is grateful to have any place to call home. He’s lived in Nickelsville for almost 10 months with his wife.
He’s never been homeless before. He lost his job, lost his home, and now worries he’ll lose his life.
“I’ve got cancer, so I’ve been going through some things. This place has pretty much saved me and my wife. I don’t know what’s ahead for her if I can’t kick this cancer and find work,” Campbell says. “I’m just hoping maybe the government will do something to help us.”
The majority of people in Nickelsville want better lives for themselves than what they have under the blue tarps and tents they call home.
Steve Mueller is an exception. Nickelsville for him has become a way of life. He’s been there almost since the beginning.
“I like the freedom, just being out in the open away from electronics and that kind of stuff where you don’t rely on TV, radios, gadgets, and the next iPod that’s coming out,” Mueller says. “I’m more in tune with my surroundings and nature.”
Even if he had a million dollars, Mueller says he’d choose to live in Nickelsville.
“Absolutely,” he says. “The people here are great.”
As she tucks a new pair of socks into a pair of sturdy, black rubber boots, Iverson agrees.
“There’s certainly very nice people here,” she says. “There seems to be a human quality to people here that you don’t always find.”
By LINDA THOMAS