As Sunday’s deadline approaches for the Nickelsville homeless encampment to clear city-owned property, it is multiplying, moving to three different sites over the weekend with the help of local churches and housing advocates.
Nickelsville, born in 2008, has been all over town. Since May 2011, it has built a community of people living in tents, homemade plywood-and-tarp structures, on pallets and in small sheds.
The site has a chicken coop, goats and a little barn, a large tent of donated clothes, portable toilets, picnic tables and a cooking area.
This spring, the Seattle City Council signed a $500,000 contract with the Union Gospel Mission to help Nickelsville residents find housing. The mission workers had a tough time, since many residents resented the effort to scatter the group, said Union Gospel Mission Special Projects Director Mike Johnson.
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Johnson said the population has nearly doubled since the mission started reaching out to residents July 3, from 80 to more than 150. In the end, his group found housing for 40 people. It gave an additional eight money to help them travel to where they had family or friends they could stay with, Johnson said. They hope to house 12 more people before Sunday.
More than 100 are expected to move this weekend to three church-sponsored sites — one at 20th Avenue South and South Jackson Street in the Central District, another in Skyway, and the third at a yet-unrevealed Seattle neighborhood, according to Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute, which has been helping Nickelsville residents.
Signs posted around the camp urge people to pack up and be ready to move.
Nickelsville has been both a political statement and a community since a group of homeless people set up bright pink tents on a piece of public property in 2008 and named the encampment for then-Mayor Greg Nickels.
Mayor Mike McGinn took office at the beginning of 2010 and allowed the encampment to stay in an old city fire station, then on the current unused city property along West Marginal Way Southwest.
The city has spent at least $26,000 on supplies to build platforms on cinder blocks, keeping the tents dry when the property floods, pest control and waste removal.
The camp’s fate is coming to a head in the middle of McGinn’s race for re-election. He spent years working on legislation to open up more property to encampments, but the council did not support it.
McGinn’s opponent, state Sen. Ed Murray, has said he agrees with the council’s approach.
On Thursday, he said the city must find housing for people with pets and partners, who often find encampments are their best option.
With a systematic approach, he said, “Over time, you shrink the Nickelsville phenomenon.”
Penny Lane Pannek’s student loan fell through, so she moved to Nickelsville with her boyfriend in July.
The Union Gospel Mission helped her find an apartment.
“I drove by it,” she said. “It looks all right.” But her boyfriend will not be allowed to stay there.
Richard Gilbert, who has lived at Nickelsville since it began, said new people arrive daily. On Monday, two families at Nickelsville said they weren’t sure where to enroll their kids in school, because they didn’t know where they would be in a week.
In the middle of the camp this week, two Union Gospel Mission workers had set up under a tent, with a laptop. Around them, camp life continued as usual, with no sign that their community was about to be dispersed.
Kids gathered around the fire pits, playing with new backpacks and school supplies as they anticipated the start of school.
At the security hut, a family of five from San Antonio who spent Monday night in a car was weighing whether Nickelsville would be better, even for a few days.
At the far end of the camp, by the goat pen, a little girl ran down the path to announce a hot lunch was ready.
“Fried chicken on the west side!” she hollered.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter