Nickelsville's homeless pack up for move to North Seattle
Even as they packed up their belongings on Sunday and prepared for a Monday move, most of the 75 or so residents of Nickelsville did not know exactly where in North Seattle they were moving to, believed to be a swath of city-owned property with a building on-site for indoor access.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The homeless camp is among several in Seattle, but the only one accepting children. At any time, it is home to about 100 people.
It was established in 2008 by homeless advocates who put up 150 fuchsia-colored tents on public land southwest of downtown and invited the homeless to move in.
The camp is named after former Mayor Greg Nickels, in the same way Hooverville, a shantytown erected on Elliott Bay during the Great Depression, was named for President Herbert Hoover.
Self-governed, it operates like a town, with residents voting on all aspects of life there. Residents cannot be actively using drugs or alcohol; each is assigned duties.
Private landowners, such as churches, host the camp for 90 days at a time, and some provide water and electricity.
Source: Seattle Times research
Monday morning, Andrea Sparre will leave her home, a tent at Nickelsville, which for the last three months has occupied a prominent corner in the University District. She'll attend the methadone program she's enrolled in, followed by a day of classes she's taking to become a veterinary technician, not knowing exactly where she'll be spending Monday night.
Even as they were packing up their belongings on Sunday — their bikes, plants, donated clothes and blankets — and preparing for a Monday move, Sparre and most of the 75 or so residents of this roving homeless camp did not know where they would be going.
They were to have moved on Sunday — the 17th move since a determined band of squatters and their advocates set up an unauthorized tent city named after a former mayor they felt was ignoring their cause.
But some Nickelsville leaders Sunday said city officials were still notifying neighbors of the proposed location in North Seattle — a swath of city-owned property capable of accommodating 100 people, with a building on-site for indoor access.
The few residents who knew the exact location weren't disclosing it, though some neighbors of the property by early Sunday afternoon had revealed it on a website.
Mayor Mike McGinn said last week he wants to clear the Sodo site of the former Sunny Jim peanut-butter factory, find a community manager and open a long-term pilot site for 100 to 150 homeless people by March.
But Nickelsville has run out of time at its current site, the parking lot of University Congregational United Church of Christ at Northeast 45th Street and 16th Avenue Northeast.
Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith, who has been working on setting up the Sodo site, wouldn't even confirm the city was working with the encampment on an intermediate site.
Nickelsville residents are hoping they can remain at the North Seattle site until the Sodo site is ready — several weeks longer than the 90 days the law allows.
Richard Gilbert, a founding resident and one of the patriarchs of Nickelsville, said that while he's hopeful the city will come through, he's heard too many broken promises over the years.
"It's not like they don't have the space; the city is shutting down parks and structures," he said. "All this moving gets to be a lot of stress on people — stress on their hearts, not just on their bodies."
Gilbert said McGinn has "made no effort to come out and see Nickelsville. That would be a significant gesture on his part if he would."
Several University of Washington students and other neighborhood volunteers dropped by throughout the day to help the residents pack their belongings into moving trucks.
The North Seattle site will be one of two where they have been able to stay indoors since Nickelsville started.
In addition, there's a laundromat across the street and bus stops and stores nearby, said Nate Martin, who moved to Nickelsville about seven months ago.
Martin said the Nickelsville residents approved the new site without knowing the exact location, based on a description and amenities presented to them by what Martin called a "supersecret site committee."
"It was the indoor plumbing that got them."
Sparre, the student, who has been at Nickelsville since August, said living there has allowed her to begin taking classes toward a degree as a veterinary technician at Pima Medical Institute, without having to worry about her safety every night.
A methadone addict who has been clean and sober for five months, she describes Nickelsville as home.
"I've been very comfortable here," she said.
She plans to remain in the camp for the year and a half it will take her to obtain her degree and welcomes the idea of a permanent site.
"Now that I'm in school, it would be nice to come home every day without having to worry that we have to move again," she said.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.