Nickelsville Residents Move to Three New Locations

Sep 3, 2013

Over the holiday weekend, Seattle’s homeless camp Nickelsville left West Seattle after more than two years. Moving is traumatic for anyone, but it’s particularly complicated when you don’t have a permanent place to live. 

Oh, the hassles of a move—the maze of boxes, packing up everything only to unpack it all later.

Imagine moving 16 times in two years. Instead of boxes, you have platforms and cinder blocks, and a couple of goats, too.

That’s how it is for the people in Nickelsville, including Richard Gilbert. He’s moving his entire house. It’s a small shack, really, with just room enough to sleep, but with a proper door and a window.

“The inside here, you could make bedding, you can make shelves,” he said.

The whole structure is moving to a new location. Gilbert is the so-called historian of Nickelsville, and he has lived with the camp since it started in 2008. He says the loss of community is what upsets people most.

“We’ve been struggling with private land owners to get one big site where everyone can stay together safely. So now, we’re going to be broken up in three different groups, and it’s a lot of stress on everybody,” he said.

The Nickelsville community decided the moves to each of the three new locations should be dictated by seniority. One of the new locations is in south central Seattle, near a low-income housing complex. Truby Mc Dowell has been in the tent city less than three weeks. She’s there with her family, which includes six kids. With school out for the summer, she is struggling to keep her kids entertained. Then there’s the rain, which keeps everyone cooped up in the tent.

“It’s quite the challenge, and when the weather is like this, unfortunately, all I can do is have them inside. And it’s a mess in there right now, and I’m trying to keep everybody from killing each other,” she said.

Once the move is done and clean up at the old West Seattle camp is complete, there’s still about $5,000 in bills that Nickelsville needs to pay off. That’s for the port-a-potties, dumpsters, and a few cell phones.  

Gilbert says even as Nickelsville was getting close to moving, the population was still growing.  

“We have gone back up to almost 145 people in this camp, and they keep coming, each and every day, (those) who want a place to stay and want to stay safe,” he said.

The hope that Nickelsville residents have now, though, is to continue to look for one site, and raise money to buy their own land to keep the community together.