As the rain returned to Seattle Thursday evening, four people huddled around a small campfire in a lot behind the Arco AM/PM gas station at 23rd and Cherry. Surrounded by 28 tents set on top of homemade platforms built from old pallets, the 32 residents of the Cherry St homeless camp prepared for another night in their new Central District home.
The camp is the third and most recent community to move into the CD following the exodus of the longtime Nickelsville encampment on Marginal Way in Delridge. The camp follows two other Nickelsville communities that moved into the Central District in September. A camp at 22nd and Union has around 25 residents and the camp at 20th and Jackson has around 20, according to Nickelsville staff person Scott Morrow.
The Cherry camp, which had been located in Skyway, moved December 2nd onto a empty lot owned by the Cherry Hill Baptist Church. Despite the significant time and energy spent to construct the encampment, the group currently is only authorized to stay through February. Jamie McDaniels, who moved from the Skyway camp to the new Cherry location, said he and fellow residents were relieved to find the space but they’re already worried about having to move in three months.
“Could you imagine having to move everything you own every ninety days?” he said. “Logistically it’s a nightmare.”
McDaniel’s said the group is eyeing a longer-term space at 15th and Spring. The camp, like the two other Nickelsville communities, has three portable toilets and a large dumpster. A guard shack, occupied 24 hours a day, sits in front of the camp’s chain-link fence entrance on 22nd. Campers constructed a large protected kitchen area and common space for a campfire.
Residents must abide by a code of conduct, which includes a ban on alcohol and drugs, weapons, and abusive behavior. The campsite is nearly packed, but McDaniel’s said they’re permitted to house 75 residents.
Among the three CD Nickelsville camps, Cherry is the largest. Morrow told CHS that Union and Jackson will likely stay in their current locations through September 2014. Camps must be sponsored by churches according to city ordinance. The Union camp, which is restricted to families, is sponsored by the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd and the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church is sponsoring the camp on Jackson.
Nickelsville community members say they fund their operations through a mix of church support, government assistance, and neighborhood volunteers.
Earlier this year the City of Seattle announced it would be evicting the Nickelsville community from their longtime Marginal Way encampment. In June, the City Council approved a $500,000 contract with the Union Gospel Mission to help “transition” campers off of the city-owned lot. After the previous moves went down over the summer, residents at Cherry St told CHS they have yet to receive any assistance from UGM.
In an email to CHS, a UGM spokesperson said “The one misconception that is out there is that the Mission received a $500,000 check. That is not the case. As expenses occurs, rents for apts., furniture, etc., we request reimbursement of fund from the City of Seattle.”
One CDNews reader and Jackson camp neighbor said she and another neighbor brought wood to camp residents when temperatures dropped last week, but they were overwhelmed with the number of people when they arrived. “I don’t even know what to do … there are people living outside at the end of my street,” she said.
For more about the camps and how to get involved, check out the Nickelsville Works Facebook page.