The smell of extinguished campfires lingered in the air. From all corners of Nickelsville came the screech of crowbars and thwack of hammers. Board by board, tent by tent, the encampment at West Marginal Way South was coming down.
Cats were in cages. Dogs tied up. Clothes boxed and a large truck was being filled with wooden pallets for sleeping. By noon Sunday, the first load was to leave for Skyway, one of three sites that will become the new home for some of the 100 people who have lived at the camp in an industrial area near the Duwamish River.
After complaints of flooding, rat infestation and calls for police enforcement at the camp and a $1.65 million claim against the city by a neighboring business owner who said the encampment hurt his property value, the city decided to evict the campers who have illegally squatted at the site for two years.
The city first tried relocating them by giving the Union Gospel Mission $500,000 to help the campers move into other housing. But as fast as they moved some out, others moved in.
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The council voted to set a Sept. 1 deadline to have the site cleared. But even so, a family from Idaho moved in just the day before the deadline.
“We came in off the sidewalk. Other shelters are full. And there are more services here in Seattle than in Idaho,’’ said Julia Tapia, whose 2-year-old son, Liam, crawled under a picnic table after the family dog. Tapia, 31; her husband, Aaron Tapia, 28; and son will be heading to one of the new encampments, most likely Skyway.
They found Nickelsville, started in 2008, a welcoming place. Over the two years at its West Marginal Way location, it has grown from a collection of tents to include wooden shacks, a lean-to for a goat and chickens, a line of port-a-potties, a cooking area and a sleeping area and has elected representatives. Living there are disabled people who use wheelchairs and families with children, homeless veterans, students, elderly men and single women.
“A lot of people like this site,’’ said David Jay, 50, a disabled veteran who doesn’t make enough money on his military pension to live anywhere else.
“I had been sleeping in my van until my van got towed. I tried to stay in motels but couldn’t,’’ Jay said. “These people took me in, in the middle of the night, and I will be forever grateful.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve ran out of water several times, and the kids here have to go to school pretty soon,” he said.
Jay is one of the elected “move masters,” who walks through the group with a clipboard, telling people when their belongings will be relocated and to what camp.
Jordan Linev’s tent lay in a gray heap on the pallets, surrounded by boxes of worn shoes, pairs of jeans, a clock and cans of soup.
An immigrant from Bulgaria, he never made much money laying carpet in the United States and when he did, he sent it home to help his brother in Bulgaria’s struggling post-communist economy.
At 67, he works three days a week cooking in a nursing home.
“I am a good cook. They like my Bulgarian food,’’ he said. He suffers the effects of being hit in the head by a falling tree limb long ago and talks of someday showing his brother America.
“If it was not moving day, I would be at church today,’’ he said.
A private-property owner in Skyway agreed to let part of the group stay at a vacant lot in the 129400 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. The Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church is hosting another part at a vacant lot near the parsonage in the 2020 block of South Jackson Street and the rest will go to property owned by Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in the 1400 block of 21st Avenue.
Residents get to choose which camp they want to go to by their seniority. All of the sites have the advantage of being closer to services and bus routes than the West Marginal site. Over the years, the camp has been located at two of the sites before, but sooner or later complaints from neighbors or city officials forced them to move on.
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522