Photos by Patrick Robinson
A City of Seattle notice of encampment closure sign at Nickelsville deems Sept. 1 as the day residents of the homeless camp on W. Marginal Way S.W. in Highland Park need to move out. PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE OR SEE BELOW THE STORY FOR MORE

SLIDESHOW: No easy solutions as Nickelsville closure nears

For an update to this story, with information from Union Gospel Mission on the transitional work they are doing with Nickelsville campers, please click here.

Residents at Nickelsville, the homeless encampment on West Seattle’s eastern fringe, are busy preparing for one of two outcomes in the next week as the city council-mandated deadline for vacating their current home on W. Marginal Way S.W. arrives on Sept. 1: If they have three new campsites ready by that time (two are secured as of Aug. 23), they plan to pack up and move. If not, a showdown may be in the works.

“We have our deadline, and we have two sites secured but until we do get that third site, until we have room for everyone to go, we will stand our ground,” Nickelsville resident Mike Singer said during a Herald tour of the camp on Aug. 22. Singer said they want to move everyone at once to avoid leaving anyone behind, creating animosity.

Nickelsville is not a legal tent encampment and the residents are technically squatting on public land – prompting the shutdown.

It’s unclear exactly what Seattle plans to do if the campers stay put on deadline day, but Nickesville residents we spoke to said they are preparing for a possible forced tear down if a third site isn’t secured. A statement from Mayor Mike McGinn’s spokesman Aaron Pickus to the Herald read, “Our plan is to continue working to help the residents find shelter elsewhere. I’m not going to speculate on what will happen on Sept. 1, as our focus is to find shelter for the residents.”

For a select few members of Nickelsville, the “finding shelter” alternative is in the works. As part of the city’s June decision to vacate the city-owned Glass Yard property on Sept. 1, they also appropriated $500,000 to help move as many tenants as possible into temporary or shelter housing. Union Gospel Mission (UGM) was awarded the contract and is tasked with the transition.

Depending on who you ask, Nickelsville's current population is anywhere from 120 to 170 people. We’ve reached out to UGM for the latest numbers on how many have been helped into transitional housing and are awaiting reply. In a Stranger story by Anna Minard on Aug. 21, UGM reported 24 people have been moved into housing alternatives. Nickesville’s Central Committee, on Aug. 22, said around 35 people have been moved or are in the process of being moved.

During our tour, we talked with 1-year resident Kara Ward, who said UGM is moving her to a Burien apartment on Sept. 1 or 2. She said they’ll cover her rent for four months, and then wean her off of support until she can ultimately cover the cost herself after a year. The ongoing concern voiced by Nickelsville in putting people into housing is that it may split families apart, and Ward’s experience stands as a good example.

“The only bad thing about this is the guy I’ve been with for ten years, he has a felony and is already eight years off of parole and they can’t house him with me,” she said, “and now they are going to be separating me from the only family I have.”

She said her fear of what will happen with their relationship stands in contrast with the positives of moving into a home.

“I’ll be able to take a shower everyday for one thing (she currently bathes in the Duwamish River), employment, I can go back to school now that I’ll have a place to study (she said she plans to work towards certificates in crime scene investigations and has prior training as an EMT).”

“You can’t do anything without a shower,” she said. “You cannot stay clean in here, it’s just impossible.”

Ward said UGM is trying to find her boyfriend “felony-friendly” housing, but there are no guarantees. According to residents we spoke with, the bar is very high for admittance into the UGM program.

“Between pets, undocumented spouses, families with children and a husband, (past criminal) records: they are always split up,” Singer said. “I just think it’s ironic that the same reasons people are here (homeless and living at Nickelsville) are keeping them out of UGM’s program.”

Don Cunningham, who has been at Nickelsville for around six months after finding himself unemployed, said he is not a contender for transitional housing because he cannot illustrate steady income (whether from work or public assistance) to take over the lease once UGM’s aid runs out.

“I will find a job in six months,” he said, “but they are not letting people do it.”

We are awaiting a return call from UGM to clarify their housing policies.

In terms of finding new legal camps, sites still need to be sponsored by a religious organization with a limit of 100 people. A Councilmember Nick Licata sponsored bill to expand opportunity for camps into certain industrial and commercial zones was voted down by the council in July, with those rejecting it saying the city needs to find homes for the homeless, not more encampments. Of the two sited found so far, the central committee said one is located at 2020 S. Jackson but declined to share the address of the other.

As Sept. 1, a Sunday, approaches, Nickelsville is busy coordinating their plans. They intend to start cleaning up the site and dismantling tents on Aug. 30 and envision it will take until Sept. 2 or 3 to complete the move, assuming they have three new camps available.

The central committee is asking that anyone interested in volunteering a helping hand – anything from elbow grease to moving trucks to food and life supplies – to contact Scott Morrow at 206-450-9136.

Additional supplies they are hoping to gather include 33 gallon garbage bags (to move personal belongings and clean up refuse), rolls of duct tape, strong twine, plywood, truck and forklifts, plywood and tools to remove nails from plywood.

A weeklong candlelight vigil is being held by the Westside Interfaith Network beginning Aug. 25.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.