May 21, 2008
Vol: 15 No: 22

Community & Editorial

Here comes Nickelsville

By Susanna Pehrson

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A safe place to stay, where their belongings won’t be lost in one of the many sweeps to clear the city of homeless people. That is all they ask for—and intend to fight for.

Almost 30 men and women, most of them homeless, met up on Sun., May 18 at a Woodland Park shelter to attend an event organized by a newly formed group of homeless people that feels something has to be done to enhance the safety of the homeless in Seattle.

The group calls itself “Nickelsville”, a sardonic reference to the cardboard Hoovervilles that sprung up across the United States during the Great Depression.

Anitra Freeman, a member of the Real Change editorial committee, spoke of the higher numbers of deaths among homeless people resulting from Mayor Nickel’s initiated sweeps. Freeman helped start Women in Black, an organization that stands in silence outside the Seattle Justice Center each time a homeless person dies outside or by violence in King County.

“Homeless people are chased from place to place,” said Freeman, invoking the death of Bernard St. Clair, hit by a vehicle while trying to cross I-5 near Airport Way South a month ago as he was trying to get from one encampment to another.

The picture is confirmed by Josh Kroeger, who currently sleeps in Kinnear Park on the southwestern flank of Queen Anne. He is aware the park will be swept on May 28, but said that the dozens of people sleeping there will stay until the day of the sweep. Kroeger said he moves more often now, but so far always has managed to stay one step ahead of the sweeps.

“They got to give us some place to be. That’s what Nickelsville is all about,” says James Lucas. Lucas works for SHARE, a shelter organization self-managed by homeless people, and said he has seen the amount of homeless people rise during the last months, noting that all their shelters are full.

Leo Rhodes, who has been homeless for more than 20 years and active in the Nickelsville initiative, reminded everybody how Tent City started in the face of earlier city sweeps. “They said [Tent City] was not going to happen and look now…. This is just the beginning.”

One Tent City resident, Randy Pellam, agreed and emphasized that homeless people have changed things in the past and will do so in the future. He told of acquaintances who have lost everything in sweeps and almost died when coming back late on cold nights to non-existant encampments. “What kind of community allows that?” said Pellam.

The group will continue to meet informally once a week to go forward in finding a site for Nickelsville where the owner does not ask them to leave.

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