Today I took two buses to get up to the University District to visit Nickelsville. I figured I might as well because who’s to say I won’t end up there with my kids? I met a man they call Alter-Nate who graciously gave me a tour and introduced me to the security and arbitrators. He explained to me how they operate and yes, they are probably the only tent city allowed to have children. I suspect it is because drugs and alcohol are not allowed, in fact they are on the zero tolerance list in the rules they have.
This community is very clean and organized. There is a commons area where folks can sit under a canopy of tarps; a good idea since this is Seattle and it does rain. They have several grills lined up in a row to cook meals on and an outdoor kitchen pantry to store what food everybody helps contribute to. It is in bad need of restocking. The area is clean, members are not allowed to be slovenly. Nickelsville has a fund that pays for the portable toilets set up at one corner of the University Congregational United Church of Christ’s parking lot. There is a security station made from what I assume are two donated old school desks, a few chairs and a canopy of tarps. They have a lamp and a little area for a coffee maker and supplies. When I came in I met a man and his dog, Midnight.
These people are not drunks, alcoholics or severely mentally ill people who most people stereotype as being the homeless. There are families with kids here. Everyone here is clean and they look like you and I. The community invited me to sit down in the common area and they talked with me. They politely introduced themselves to me, told me how they got here and what they hope the City of Seattle will do to help find a permanent place for Nickelsville. They did tell me they are not affiliated with tent city 2 or 3 but they are a tent city.
These folks are genuinely hospitable even though they are homeless. They band together to help each other survive and many act as teachers to show others how to get resources, jobs and whatever else they need to live. They do need donations however. Seattle faces a $60 million deficit in 2011 and city planners often meet with the community of Nickelsville as they have become a model tent city. They self govern and police their own community. They keep a 2 block radius around the city clean and crime free.
They invited me to spend a night over to see for myself how things are and you know what? I just might do that. I told my kids about it and they actually have no problem trying it out for a weekend. I want them to see the other families here with kids and talk to them so they know we aren’t the only homeless out here. More are coming. When I left that evening, a man stopped by the security station and asked if it was possible to sleep there one night as SHARE had just kicked everyone out for the evening because whoever was supposed to take care of chores that day failed to do so and as a result, everyone was punished. The gentleman even showed me the letter that had been handed out to everyone staying in the shelter.
These are real people trying to find real solutions in a bad economy. I think Nate is rather ingenius. He showed me a bike he converted into an electrical generator so that the members of Nickelsville can recharge their laptops, phones, etc. without having to spend a dime. They had or have a generator but it costs too much in gas to run it. A sentence from the intake sheet they gave me sums up their attitude. Nickelodeons are problem solvers, not whiners.