My name is Phillip, I am 25 years old and I have lived in Nickelsville, a tent city for the homeless, for about two years. Nickelsville contains about 120 tents and houses about 160 people who are also homeless. We all live on a piece of land that is about 100 yards long and 30 yards wide. The city government doesn’t recognize that we exist but they allow us to camp here, at least for now, until at some point local politics dictate that we leave. There are four other tent cities in Seattle but all of those are recognized by the city. They are required to move locations every 90 days- at least in Nickelsville we get to stay put for the time being. The politics are crazy but they impact all of the homeless in Seattle.
Here is my story:
I came to Seattle from San Francisco. I had a job there as a carpenter but I left because I was making just enough to pay my rent and keep some food on the table. I heard that there were better paying jobs in Seattle so I came here to improve my life. When I first got to Seattle I was able to get a job that paid a little more than what I was previously making in California but after two months the company I worked for went out of business. I got some part time work but I couldn’t pay my rent any longer so I was force to live in my car. One day I was out looking for work and someone broke into my car and stole all of my tools. Shortly after that, my car broke down and was impounded. At that point I was out of money, had no job and no place to live. I lived under bridges for a couple of months until I heard about Nickelsville. The first thing I heard is that it is a safe place to live. I had been attacked a couple of times while I was living on the streets so the safety issue was what drew me to Nickelsville.
The good thing about living here is that everyone is given a job to do around camp and the rules of the camp are enforced. If you break the rules you can be expelled. People do look out after one another here so it is a fairly safe place to live. Because the city doesn’t recognize that we exist, the police will not come onto the property unless a crime is reported and that causes problems occasionally when someone needs to be expelled but hasn’t committed a crime. There are a lot of disadvantages to living here: there is a huge problem with rats, they are everywhere. The land we live on is filled swamp land so every time it rains, we flood. We have tried to resolve the flooding by putting the platforms that are the base for the tents on cinderblocks to raise the tents about two feet off the ground. That is not high enough all of the time however. We also put down donated wood chips throughout the camp to absorb the water on the ground but when it is wet outside everything in the tent gets wet also and stays wet for days. There is no running water and no electricity. There are four jiffy-johns to serve the entire community. Food is generally donated by the local food banks in town but the only cooking facilities are a few gas grills. Because there is no electric, it is cold in the winter and hot in the summer and there is no place to escape the flies or the smell.
I am homeless through no fault of my own. I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. I have been trying to get a job but I don’t have a phone number that someone could call to offer me a job. I have no place to shower on a regular basis so I do not present well when talking to a prospective employer. I seem to be trapped with no way out. I have seen others here just resign themselves to being homeless – I don’t want to do that but how do I get out?
Phillip is a fictional character but his story is similar to a lot of the people that live in Nickelsville and other similar places that you might find in any big city in this country. We have all see poverty in West Virginia but urban poverty has an entirely different look.
Let us all take a minute to pray for all of the homeless people who will sleep in tents or under bridges tonight. Lord, hear our prayer.