Nickelsville Ballard, the city-sanctioned, self-managed homeless encampment presently homed on Market Street in Ballard will be decamping to Wallingford shortly.
Founded in 2008 (and named as a not-tribute to then-mayor Greg Nickels), the community operates with the city’s blessing, which acknowledges that “there is insufficient supply of low-barrier shelter beds for any given night and outreach workers often find that the City’s emergency shelter system does not meet the needs of people living unsheltered.” Besides the fact that they fill up nightly, a major barrier for many seeking shelter in the city’s official shelters: they do not accept families together, so husbands and wives and other partnerships must split up each night to stay warm.
There are presently four camps operated under the Nickelsville umbrella.
Unlike the unsanctioned camps by and under I-5, in Gas Works and scattered elsewhere around the neighborhood, Nickelsville camps have a formal admissions and governing system : admission is on a first-come, first serve basis as vacancies become available, which works out to about once every couple of weeks (typical tenure runs around six weeks).
All residents must agree to abide by the rules of the community, which include no booze, drugs or weapons on premises, and all members meet weekly, where they elect their leadership and ensure everyone is signed up for the shared jobs (e.g., security patrol, trash removal) and that other rules such as safe food storage are being followed.
The Ballard camp has approximately 23 residents, who live in a mixture of tents and 6 “tiny houses”. The houses are wrapped in tarp for warmth, and residents can draw water from 600 gallon drum and make use of the shared propane barbecues to heat food.
The plan at the moment is for the camp to move on November 17th, when its two-year Ballard lease expires, to 3814 Fourth Ave. NE in lower Wallingford, near Ivar’s. The property presently holds an old house owned by Seattle City Light. A representative of Nickelsville told me that the plan was to knock it down and clear the land for the temporary (two-year) Nickelsville lease occupation.
Now, none of this is set in stone yet. While Nickelsville is hopeful that the use of land with plumbing and sewer will allow them to have better facilities than the water drum and porta-potty setup in Ballard, the person I spoke with expressed concern both with the size of the lot (8,000 sq ft as opposed to the 9,6000 they occupy now) as well as the fact that there is presently a house that needs to be removed before they can move in…on November 17.
For those worried about the impact of homeless community on the neighborhood, there are a number of reasons to be hopefuly. For one, the Community Advisory Council, which now includes representatives from Ballard’s business and residential community, will include representatives from Wallingford’s community in their stead, so we’ll have a voice.
Also, unlike the unsanctioned encampments that often function as bicycle chop shops and bases for local malfeasance, the structure and rules of the sanctioned camps tend to keep those behaviors at bay. I spoke with Willow Fulton, who has lived near and worked with Camp Second Chance, a sanctioned camp by White Center, and she said that the presence of the sanctioned camp not only didn’t add to the crime and vandalism in the area, but tended to raise the behavior bar for nearby unsanctioned camps, as well.
“If the sanctioned camp weren’t there,” she said, “the city wouldn’t care about the people camping in the woods at all. But because the sanctioned camp is there, they have trash pickup, they’ve fixed street lights, they bring in shower trucks that everyone can use.
Removing the desperation helps remove the things that people do when they’re desperate,” she said.
(As of press time, my repeated calls and emails to City homelessness director George Scarola went unanswered.)