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.