I have a column due by 9 a.m. this morning, and I've also promised Anitra "Not Acting On Behalf Of Anybody In Particular" Freeman that by the same time I'd read a book-length manifesto on Nickelsville that she wrote with a committee. Not being inclined to do needless work, I shall now attempt to combine the two efforts into one glorious slack-off. I've talked about Nickelsville here before, but I've never spent an entire column on it. This is mainly due to the fact that it hasn't existed yet. I generally find that when I talk about that which is not, the results are even more obtuse than what you usually get when I talk about that which is.
But Nickelsville is poised to be, probably before the next column is out, so it has achieved a degree of concreteness analogous to that of The Melting of the Polar Icecaps and The Rise of the Oceans Due to Global Warming, or The Great Stock Market Crash of 2008 (both expected later today).
So what will Nickelsville be? It will be a Hooverville that is named after Greg Nickels, Seattle's mayor, rather than after Herbert Hoover, a former U.S. President. In the Great Depression Seattle had a Hooverville, a shantytown built by homeless people. A lot of people then thought that Herbert Hoover was responsible for a lot of the Greatness of the Great Depression. So they named the shantytowns after him, the need for them being perceived to be partly his fault.
Today, we don't just think Greg Nickels has a lot to do with how hard it is to survive homeless in Seattle, we know he does. We have listened to him talk a good talk about ending homelessness, while at the same time chasing homeless encampments all around the city and destroying survival gear wherever it's found. The message from Nickels is that we, the City of Seattle, will end homelessness in the abstract by 2014 (only not really, because the plan isn't to actually end homelessness, but ha ha, that's what we say about it, even though the plan itself says something entirely different, read the fine print), but concretely we will strip all the homeless who are forced outdoors for lack of adequate shelter, of their property, and leave them to the elements.
So as those homeless people who wish to live band together into a shantytown, there is no question whose fault it all is. Nickelsville will be Nickels' fault. Without Greg Nickels and the homeless encampment sweeps he instigated, Nickelsville wouldn't be about to happen. As bad as George Bush is, there would not be a Bushville at this time. Until maybe next week, depending on how many multibillion dollar financial greed factories file Chapter 11 this week.
As Anitra and Friends' manifesto ably and concisely points out, Nickelsville will cost the City of Seattle nothing. To be less concise: it will not take money out of the general fund. It will not be built by city workers paid by taxpayers. The residents will build and maintain it with assistance from private donors. The city will not be billed for the labor.
People are always saying, "Why don't homeless people ever do anything to help themselves?" Well, they do, everyday. They help themselves by barely surviving in spite of all the obstacles and all the persecution. It's understandable that people can't see that work of surviving, because it's scattered among thousands of personal stories.
Nickelsville should make matters more clear. "What are homeless people doing to help themselves?" Building Nickelsville, for one thing.
And if, as feared, the city tears Nickelsville down, that would help answer the follow-up question, "Why, if they are helping themselves, are they still homeless?"
The first step in getting out of homelessness is finding a way to maintain and survive every day. If that first step is continually tripped up by the police power of a mayor, then there can never be a second step.