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Shantytown, USA

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Issue: 60 Section: Photo Essay Geography: USA Topics: economics, housing

May 21, 2009

Shantytown, USA

Nickelsville residents demand permanent land for the homeless

by Dawn Paley

The view from above Nickelsville. Photo: Dawn Paley

NICKELSVILLE (RENTON), SEATTLE–"Thank God for Nickelsville." That's how two women living at the site summed up their feelings towards the "permanent homeless shantytown" currently set up in the side lot of the Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church in northeast Seattle, WA, USA.

Its existence has provided a safe place to people who would otherwise have nowhere to live, allowing residents to "provide for themselves a basic level of safety and sanitation when their government steadfastly refuses to do so for them," according to the Nickelsville website.

Nickelsville got its start on city property on September 22, 2008, in response to a lack of city action in response to growing of homelessness. Days later, the site was raided by police, and 22 people were arrested. Nickelsville has moved five times since it was founded.

Every so often, residents of Nickelsville, who call themselves Nickelodeons, have to pack up and move. The City of Seattle sets time limits for how long Nickelodeons are allowed to stay in one place. Nickelsville has been located in Renton since March 5, and residents will be forced to move on June 5.

Residents of Nickelsville are working to secure a permanent site where long-term housing for 1,000 people can be built.

The entryway to Nickelsville. "[Seattle] Mayor Nickels' edict to systematically drive people out of their encampments and to destroy their property was the trigger for the present crisis," reads the Nickelsville website. "It is only befitting that our shantytown be named in honor of Mayor Nickels and his 'humane' treatment of the homeless."
An estimated 75 people live in Nickelsville, and new residents join on a steady basis. The women I spoke to mentioned there were no children in the community, but said that a family-oriented camp would be a good idea.
The donations board at the entrance to Nickelsville. The primary demand of the people living there is a permanent site to build long-term housing for 1,000 people.
Pallets are used as foundations under the tents. Nickelodeons have organized themselves autonomously with no outside funding from the city. No drugs or alcohol are permitted in Nickelsville, and residents have formed a rotating security detail that everybody participates in. On-site portable toilets and a dumpster are available.
The cooking area. Food donations are stored and managed communally. Residents keep additional rations of canned goods in their tents.
Bruce Beavers has been living in Nickelsville since September 25, 2008. Originally from Austin, TX, he was employed for 10 years as a manager. Beavers was laid off, and found other work, but couldn't make ends meet. He lost his home in 2008. "We don't want money from the city," he said. "We want permanent land."
Beavers wears an armband in support of the community. Locals and Seattle residents arrive at the site in a steady stream to drop off donations and offer words of solidarity.
Nickelsville has been set up in the side yard of the United Methodist Church in Renton, Seattle, since March 5, 2009. It will remain there until June 5, when residents will pack up and move to an as-yet-undisclosed site.

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Bien fait

Good one Dawn. Nice images.


thank you, Ben.


Doesn't seem to matter where you are does it! These people are just trying to look after themselves, there's no need to keep trying to move them on.

I thought you only heard these stories about the 3rd world.

UK Housing Market


very good, thanks.

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