Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let's All Go To Nickelsville

In the movie Burn After Reading, a couple of CIA agents wrap up all the storylines in the final scene. At one point, one of the CIA guys looks into the camera and says, ``have we learned anything from this? I don’t think we’ve learned a fucking thing.’’

For a second I thought I was watching Seattle mayor Greg Nickels and his staff discussing Nickelsville the homeless encampment that the mayor’s office has been chasing around the city for the last month.

Seattle’s shantytown, built by and for the homeless, has had four homes since it came to fruition last month. First it was in Southwest Seattle, but police chased Nickelodeons off the West Marginal Way site although 22 campers and friends stayed to be arrested as a sign of civil disobedience.

Nickelodeons camped in the parking lot briefly (that’s owned by the state, the vacant field they were originally squatting is owned by the city) and then moved to Discovery Park in the northern part of the city. Nickelodeons thought they were okay on tribal land but the city claimed their presence violated the city lease with the United Indians of All Tribes. The tribe also asked the Nickelodeons to leave presumably to avoid further hassle from their landlord. Fortunately, Nickelsville now has a lawyer, from the Northwest Justice Project, who kept getting the date moved back before the Nickelodeons left Discovery Park.

I recently talked to one of the guys who got arrested in Southwest Seattle and he was in a grumpy mood. ``The city said they own the West Marginal Way property but that’s only in white man’s law. The Duwamish (Indian Tribe) owned it first. Then the city says that Nickelsville being on Indian land violates the Indian’s lease with the city. What does the lease say? You’re not allowed to be humane towards the homeless?

His mood didn’t improve any when I told him that if Nickelsville hadn't left Discovery Park the city was planning to fine homeless groups for every day that they stayed. Groups such as Share/Wheel, Veterans for Peace, ROOTS a.k.a. Rising Out of the Shadows and the Interfaith Task Faith on Homelessness.

``The UN ruled that you can’t do that (fine third parties),” my friend Steve bellowed. The United Nations! Holy crap. Perhaps someone like feisty Anita Freeman, a Nickelsville spokesperson, could go and speak before the UN. All kidding aside, people who can’t get food and shelter must feel like they’re in a war zone sometimes.

Things have been quiet lately as Nickelsville has been at its new home- the United Christian Church in the University section of the city across from the Church Council of Greater Seattle. Members of Nickelsville met with their new neighbors last week and explained what they were all about.

Some members of Nickelsville would like to the mayor as well. The day before they left West Marginal Way a group from Nickelsville went down to City Hall. The mayor refused to meet with them (surprise) and one Nickelodeon told me they even locked the elevators. If you’re healthy enough to walk the long staircase it doesn’t matter because you won’t get any farther than the reception area, all the offices are behind locked glass doors.

Like the campouts in front of City Hall, Nickelsville has been successful in putting the plight of the homeless into the mainstream media. A couple of web sites – nickelsvilleseattle.org and the realchangeorganizingproject.blogspot.com provide information and links to past media coverage.

As someone noted on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer web site, ``I’ve complained in the past about the homeless in Belltown who panhandle and defecate in alleys. But Nickelsville is an example of homeless people doing something to help themselves.’’ Here’s hoping the city will see it that way someday.