Sketched July 2, 2013
The first thing I had to do when I arrived at Nickelsville was sign in at the security office, a nicely built kiosk staffed at all times and topped with a big American flag.
This level of organization is not what I expected to find at the homeless camp the city wants to dismantle by Sept. 1.
I don’t know why, but I thought I’d encounter a lawless, inhospitable shantytown. Instead, I found a well-kept encampment where people lined up in an orderly fashion for a cheese-sandwich and taco-soup lunch.
The nomadic tent city started in spring 2008 and settled at its current location in West Seattle two years ago. Over time, Nickelodeons, as residents like to call themselves, have established a strict code of conduct and have worked to improve their living conditions by adding 14 “simple and sturdy” sleeping structures, common areas for weekly meetings, and a garden. No running water or electricity means the residents rely on four Honey Buckets and use gas-powered generators to charge their cellphones and light the security office.
Atticus Lee, one of the Nickelodeons I spoke to, said he hasn’t considered himself homeless since he came to Nickelsville with his dog, Duke. “I know where I’ll go to sleep every night,” he said. “It may not be the most comfortable place, but it is a home.”
Operation Sack Lunch, a program run by a local nonprofit, brings a warm meal to the residents of Nickelsville every day. I sketched Linda Biggs, the camp’s kitchen coordinator, as she served lunch to her fellow Nickelodeons.
Life in Nickelsville doesn’t hinder the creativity of its residents. Atticus Lee, who enjoys writing and making jewelry, has personalized the entrance to his sleeping structure with rock sculptures, tree stumps and a flower vase made out of a purple-glass bottle. Recycling is part of the camp’s rules, he said. “It’s like an eco village.”