Peggy, Lead Organizer at Nickelsville

By: Drea Chicas, MATL student at SU’s School of Theology and Ministry

One of the most stressful things to do (for anyone) is to move. I experienced this dread many times in my life; as an undergrad in college, moving in and out of dorms for the winter, summer, and spring breaks. It was not fun. Then I met Peggy the other day for coffee, and suddenly my college moves seemed small. Recently, Peggy and I sat and chatted about Nickelsville’s history, its purpose, and ways the faith community can support homeless families and individuals who live in Nickelsville.

Peggy is one of the lead organizers for Nickelsville, a large encampment made up of 149 people and their families in Seattle, WA. Nickelsville is the only encampment of its kind that allows pets and families to set up camp. Nickelodeons, a term residents call themselves, have built a strong sense of community through the creation of accountability and safety orders.

The community has endured a long-standing battle for space, moving a total of 17 times in the past three years. Each time they moved, BBQ pits, tents, pets, families, makeshift houses, cars and all the items necessary to set up camp, moved with them. Just recently, Nickelsville celebrated their one year anniversary at its current site in West Seattle.

History: The first of many moves for Nickelsville began with the city of Seattle ordering a mass sweeping and eviction.  On September 22, 2008 just when Nickelodeons thought they had a permanent location, the mayor at the time, Mayor Nickels, ordered a mass sweeping of the encampment. The city threatened to fine each resident and arrested 25 people. On September 25th, Nickelodeons decided to move, seeking the support from any organization that would be willing to host them. The encampment then moved to State Land, but Mayor Nickels threatened to fine the State. The Governor sent them a request to move and Nickelsville honored this request.

Nickelodeons found refuge under an act which protects Nickelsville and faith communities without penalty. From that point on, Nickelsville began a series of partnerships with local faith communities who were willing to donate their worship space, including parking lot and bathrooms, so Nickelodeons and their families could live without the hassle of constantly moving. This would guarantee space for up to three months.

Peggy says, “Everyone wants to feel safe in their home, regardless if they’re homeless or not.” People who stay at Nickelsville find a sense of community and, more importantly, safety. Every resident does their part to make Nicklesville a safe place through activities like required participation in safety patrols. They may lack the protection of “four walls”, but they have a strong feeling of safety.

Families: When a family shows up at Nicklesville, they are encouraged to stay. Peggy says as soon as a family comes, the Seattle Human Services Department is notified to ensure the families get the services they need. One of the expectations for resident families is every child who lives in Nickelsville must go to school. For families, kids, and parents, being at Nickelsville is “better than living in a car, and better than sleeping under bridges,” Peggy says. One of the longest resident families at Nickelsville has lived there for 9 months. They left briefly, during the winter month when they received government vouchers for motels, but since those expired, they came right back to Nickelsville. Many of the families who end up at Nickelsville have run out of options. At Nickelsville families find safety from the streets – along with meals, fresh water, and a place to use the bathroom.  The “basics” are covered so the families can regroup and focus on finding a long-term solution to their homelessness. Over the last year, however, there has been an increase in families living on the street. In October of last month, 10 children were counted among 140 residents at Nickelsville, per a Seattle PI article. The crisis of family homelessness is expected to get worse.

Future Plans:Although the shelter provided has traditionally been tents, the organizers have been working towards providing a more permanent response through dwelling spaces called“5S,” which stand for “small, simple, sleep, sturdy, structures.” Although the four wall structures that have no electricity or running water, residents appreciate the security of having “four walls.” Having four walls, despite, no running water or electricity, makes a difference. Imagine if your four walls were gone tomorrow. What would you do?

Nickelsville has enjoyed being at their West Seattle location for one year, a milestone that made local news. It’s a vibrant community that is growing every day. For example, organizers are hoping to build eco-village and have received several grants to move in that direction. Celebrations occur regularly – including a recent wedding hosted by the Bike Crusaders for two Nickelodeon couples.

Nickelsville has survived and flourished in a large part due to the hard work and “elbow grease” offered by the homeless men, women and children who call it home, coupled with countless gifts of time, talent and treasure offered by faith communities and individuals. Peggy shared the three easy ways you or your faith community can be champions for Nickelsville:

  1. Provide Meals – Nickelsville has a calendar of meals, faith communities are invited to help prepare and serve hot meal to residents and their families.
  2. Provide Water– The encampment has no running water, and relies on donations of 5 gallon fresh water tanks.
  3. Donate Money –Portable restrooms (AKA Porta Potties) are the most costly item on their budget! CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT

Thanks Peggy, for inspiring us to stay connected to the issues of family homelessness and providing practical ways to support Nickelsville.  

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