By Sharon Lee
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Seattle has a housing crisis. There is simply not enough affordable housing for families and individuals. The most recent One Night Count of homeless people in January 2014 showed over 3,100 men, women, and children sleeping unsheltered on the streets of Seattle and King County. Another 6,171 people are staying in shelters and transitional housing waiting for a permanent place to call home.
When all the emergency shelters are full and there is not enough low-income housing, Nickelsville offers families and individuals a sense of community and a safe place to live. Too many people have died (26 people since January 2014) from violence and exposure from living on the streets of Seattle.
In June 2013, the Seattle City Council threatened to evict Nickelsville, a tent city in city-owned land in south Seattle. Nickelsville worked closely with the Mayor’s Office to find alternative locations. In September 2013, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) partnered with Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church to host Nickelsville on LIHI-owned property at 2020 S. Jackson Street for up to a year. This site is next to our apartments for seniors at Ernestine Anderson Place. It is across the street from Washington Middle School, Franz Bakery, SVI, and Pratt Fine Arts Center.
If you get a chance to walk or drive by, you will see that Nickelsville includes simple wood sleeping structures (painted pink), tents on platforms, a community kitchen and dining area, artwork, garden planters, and a children’s play area. A fence surrounds Nickelsville and there is one entrance with a security hut that everyone has to sign in. The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd hosted another location at 22nd and Union. About 56 people live at both locations.
Nickelsville has been a success. Since a year ago, over 100 men, women, and children have moved into permanent housing, transitional housing, or shelters – including many into affordable apartments owned by LIHI. The community is self-managed by the residents with everyone taking turns and responsible for cleaning, cooking, security, litter patrol, bookkeeping, donations, tent maintenance, and other tasks. Social services are provided by the churches, the public health nurse, LIHI, and others. No drugs, alcohol, or weapons are allowed. Residents have strict rules they must follow.
Nickelsville serves many homeless families with children. Night after night, homeless families arrive with no place to go. Many have infants and small children. Many are people of color or immigrants/refugees. Battered women and single mothers with children show up to sleep in a tent. While this should not happen in a wealthy city like Seattle, this is the current reality. Nickelsville also houses many seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals and couples.
Now that one year has passed, Nickelsville will move from their two current locations by September 1. Coho Real Estate has graciously offered Nickelsville a place for up to 40 people at 1001 S. Dearborn Street. This is a vacant piece of land on Dearborn, between 10th and 12th Avenue South, across from the entrance to I-5 North. The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd will be the religious sponsor of this new location.
There will be an informational meeting to be held on Tuesday, Aug. 26 at 7:00 p.m. at 2010 South Jackson Street.
The meeting will take place in the community room at Ernestine Anderson Place. Residents will be there to make a presentation and answer questions. A tour will be given of Nickelsville next door.
The Seattle International District Rotary Club and Seattle Goodwill are supportive of Nickelsville.
“Members of the Seattle International District Rotary Club visited Nickelsville on South Jackson Street last December. It was cold outside and many families and individuals were living in tents and wood sleeping structures because emergency shelters are filled to capacity. Our club was impressed with the residents and how organized they were with chores and other responsibilities to keep Nickelsville clean and safe. Seattle International District Rotary Club donated tents, children and adult clothing, equipment, and food. Our club raised over $9,000 to help pay for supplies, case management services for the residents, and utilities for Nickelsville.” — Shannon Woodman, President, Seattle International District Rotary Club
“Seattle Goodwill welcomes Nickelsville to our Dearborn Neighborhood. We provided one of Share/Wheel’s 30-person communities with a shelter space in one of our underutilized buildings, before it was demolished to make way for improvements to our campus at Dearborn and Rainier. They were a well-organized community with requirements that included a zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. They were self-managed, providing their own security and cleaning. Though providing only temporary solutions for homeless families and individuals, today, Nickelsville homeless sites provide a necessary service for those struggling in our community. Goodwill looks forward to working with those of our new neighbors who are in need of job training and education services.” — Catherine McConnell, Vice President, Seattle Goodwill Industries
For more information, please contact Sharon Lee at 206-443-9935 x111 or SharonL@LIHI.org, or Scott Morrow of Nickelsville at 206-450-9136 or Scott@nickelsville.works.