Monday, September 22, 2008

Nickelsville: In the Pink









As I was leaving Nickelsville this morning, three homeless guys with backpacks crested the hill to behold a sea of 150 fuchsia tents. The oldest of them — tall, gaunt, and weathered as the road itself — beamed at the sight. Snapping a few final photos, I must of looked something like press. "You looking for a headline," he smiled? "How about, "We're in the pink?"

Pink, fuschia, whatever. The 150 tents that were unwittingly donated to Real Change last week by the Girl Scouts of America look a lot like salvation to the hundreds of homeless who have been chased pillar to post in this town since the City began hounding homeless campers more than year ago. Apparently, the use of these tents for their annual Jamboree is a one time deal. Normally, we would have passed these on one at a time to those who have had their survival gear stolen by the city. Due to a happy accident of timing, however, we were able to expedite the process by passing them onto the Nickelsville organizing committee.

When we arrived at slightly after four this morning, the advance guard was still hacking a trail through the blackberry brambles into the Highland Ave and Marginal Way site that led down the hill from the small parking lot. Piles of pink sat in wait, and the tents went up in the dark first by twos and three and then fives and tens as more people arrived. The atmosphere was a bit tense as we raced against the expected arrival of the police. Organizers maintained cover by asking cars that pulled into the lot to discharge their loads and repark elsewhere. As the sun came up, the site was bathed in gold and god rays reached down to kiss the ground with radiant light.

The police never came. Nickelsville supporter and El Centro de la Raza Director Roberto Maestes was one of the first on the scene along with Scott Morrow. The site, he thought, was on Duwamish land. This we speculated, might add an interesting wrinkle to the common expectation that police would soon arrive in force to deliver the standard five minute warning before clearing the area.

I entered a few key numbers into my cel and wandered over to the main intersection to wave in the bewildered media vans who couldn't see shit from the road. My other thought was that if I saw something that looked like a bus full of robocops I might be able to offer a few minutes advance warning. No robocops came, but KOMO soon had their twenty-five foot live transmission tower telescoped into the early morning sky. A news copter circled overhead. After this, the site was easier to find.

By noon, Mayor Nickels had informed an inquiring media that the site would soon be posted for clearance in three days, per city protocol on homeless encampments. I guess the protocols are good for something. In three days, hopefully, enough supporters with plastic in their pockets and little to lose by risking arrest will arrive to act in solidarity with the homeless and help hold the fort.

Please understand that this isn't a "protest." It's a survival strategy for the hundreds of homeless people who have nowhere else to go. This year's one night homeless count found 2,631 homeless people surviving outside after the shelters were full.

To offset the campsite clearances, the city added 55 new beds. For the curious, that's about a 47:1 ratio of outdoor homeless to new beds.

More than a year ago, Mayor Nickels began a ruthless zero tolerance policy of campsite clearances from public land, knowing full well that the shelters are packed like a 358 bus headed north at rush hour. That's the bus that blows past you without stopping after you've waited twenty minutes for it's arrival. Frustrating. But not as bad as showing up for shelter and being turned away with maybe a blanket and a bus ticket once the beds are full.

As I left at around ten, the Honeybuckets were coming off the flatbed and being carried down the hill. Nickelsville was established.

I just did an interview on the sidewalk outside Real Change with the omnipresent Linda Brill of King 5. When Brill asked me to respond to the Mayor's assertion that Nickelsville was "political" i said, "It's not political. What's political is the mayor chasing homeless people out of town to make way for downtown condos. This is about survival."

"There will be a standoff, I said, "and the Mayor will have a decision to make."

The story continues.

Photos by Revel, except for Iwo Jima Honeybucket. That one was me.

7 comments:

Bill said...

I will be surprised if the City of Seattle can "trespass" to enforce its encampment ordinance at this site. If this is not City land, that ought be an issue. Who owns this land makes some difference. The City is trying to claim in its policy that it can clear DOT land encampments,... true? Or am I remembering poorly? Nevertheless, until a notice is posted,... no removal can occur. It is truly about survival. Many will try to avoid criticizing Seattle because in the region it does the most, but then, it isn't issuing from an abundance of decisions from leadership as much as it issues from citizens who willingly tax themselves via the Housing Levy. Leaders must deliver those funds for those uses accordingly, and it remains shameful that in claims about what THEY do as Seattle's leaders, they bring up use of Levy funds as something THEY do to show THEY care for the homeless. Have politicians no shame at all?

Bill said...

It won't be popular to say this and smacks against my much earlier comment above, but it is often the case when speaking truth to power, and that includes the power that seeks to be expressed among those most often without it. Nickelsville may have made as much of a POSITIVE mark as it can make in its present location. I say this sadly, even knowing that providing a safe place to stay. Yet the political motives are far too transparent here. In large part it is doomed simply because land was chosen that makes the camp illegal. No amount of righteous and well-spoken realities about what a crisis homelessness is will overcome for too many ordinary citizens the fact that this camp is taking what is not theirs. Tent cities at congrgations are supported because people see the homeless "playing by the rules." Not so here. Many of us may see a cosmic justice in taking Seattle public land, but the City can only be faulted in failing to provide adequate shelter, not for keeping City land out of the hands of interlopers. When the private business adjacent to N-ville sought to utilize paved city land adjacent to its business, the City stepped in and no one stood with the business owner, for good reason. A righteous cause does not change the illegal act. John Howard Yoder, a respected theologian, used the term "subordination" to describe what those seeking justice must exercise in bringing to light injustice and in seeking ultimate justice. The term means, be willing to risk taking punishment offered by an unjust system. So while I say better land could have been chosen and there was an inevitable failure built into the choice, the outcome can bring a step ahead rather than 5 steps back. It is up to the camp, not me, of course. But maybe 2 (certainly other) options pertain. One is to stay, be civilly removed (i.e., peacefully), and begin a new campaign. The second is to pack up every tent that can be salvaged, and begin another campaign, and here's the idea I present. The Seattle Consent Decree allows Tent City to locate without a permit in Seattle. It allows only one tent city in Seattle. Yet when it was formed by the court, nowhere in the discussion between S/W and Seattle did anyone mention the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act. That act, which we uncovered in 2004 (it was written in 2000, go to www.rluiupa.com), allows congregations to practice their mission with the least restrictive permitting and by the local government showing a compelling governmental interest to permit at all. Seattle as I understand it has no ordinance about tent cities per se. Some cities have said there can be only one tent city in town, by ordinance, all written since 2004, and this includes King County unincorporated lands. Follow where I am going? In Seattle, with 150 pink tents, there could be maybe 5 tent cities with 30 pink tents at various congregations, or more, all going at once. Streamlined versions, no bells and whistles like showers, hot meals every night,... And, there's no 90 day limit with RLUIPA. What Seattle would do, of course, is force the issue and try to pass an ordinance. The Mayor might even succumb to an Executive order,..who knows. Talk about public attention to the issue! All with the good will of congregations however. Not illegal! And, while it's being debated, all 150 pink tents (and others) get used all over town. We may not be able to talk faith community members to sleep over at N-ville all that easily, but to be part of a mass tent city building project,...hmmm,... could be possible we'd find 5 who'd do it. All protected by RLUIPA. Sure, Seattle can pass an ordinance, but they must show a compelling governmental interest with the least restrictive permitting, and a blanket clause saying there can be only 1 tent city may be hard to defend for them legally because that would mean they'd have to become the arbitor of denying many faith communities in favor of one. I think this is where the RLUIPA provision would come in strongly since that right is not something Seattle has; that is, legislating against faith communities and limiting their rights. At minimum even if courts found for Seattle, they'd have to restore the current TC3 process if indeed they were to win in court, because again RLUIPA would still be around. And if Seattle does not win, "N-ville's pink" would become a citywide phenomenon,.. even on hizzoner's route to City Hall. Even though there'd be no formal N-ville, in effect it would be everywhere. Facing that, hizzoner might turn around and offe the very piece of land for use, not for tents, but for a slowly built, permit-approved building, camp. Nope, only on caffeine.

Anonymous said...

Still waiting for Mr. Harris to offer something positive.

Having people live in tents in the rain ain't it.

The good news is that the City of Seattle is proceeding to solve the homeless issue without Mr. Harris' sage advice. Consider the Fort Lawton project:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008197007_magnolia23m0.html

When Mr. Harris is ready to dismount his high-horse, he will be welcomed to join the discussion on what's needed to provide shelter and give hope to those presently without the means to provide for themselves.

Until then, Mr. Harris will be an object of ridicule:

http://www.seattlecrimeblog.com/tags/tim_harris/

Tim Harris said...

OOO! The cop blog ays I'm an "urban idealist" who thinks with my emotions. I can handle that. But what's with this "still waiting for Tim Harris to offer something positive" crap? Have you ever heard of Real Change? And what, really, is there that we should be so damn satisfied with? Complacency sucks. Poor people deserve far better. Get it? People like me make change happen. People like you don't seem to mind the way things are. Which is more positive?

Anonymous said...

http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/newsdetail.asp?ID=8969&dept=40

Anonymous said...

Mayor Nickels takes credit for housing a few of those coined "chronically homeless" under the failing administration's current 10-year-plan. It's a false front for the hugeness of the situation.

Thousands of people are homeless in Seattle tonight, just as they are in cities across America. Nickels can't control the range or rate of people newly joining the homeless class. He complains about the undue burden on Seattle to help, despite the influx of corporate wealth, and ignores the fact that you have to live in the city to access bare bones human services and jobs.

Let's work with people who've shown they know how to responsibly organize together, and start filling the urgent need to get people shelter NOW.

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