A home is where you’re respected. Nickelsville is a home!

Lola Bean - Posted on 18 November 2010

L Rize - PNN Correspondent

A home is where you’re respected. Nickelsville is a home!

We enter the camp through the back alley. Immediately a sense of organization and protection is felt from all whom we come in contact with. We check in and are guided back to the community space where there will be others to talk to. As we walk to the other end of the campsite I pass several tents, faces peep out. Young face with innocent eyes peeping out at me. I know there are families in these tents. I am keenly aware of myself; everything I do, where my eyes fall, where my feet hit the concrete. I know this land is special and priceless for those who live here and look at me with curious glances, yet with a distinct air of distrust residing over the camp. I am an outsider, a status with a history of potentially bringing great harm onto the Nickelsville community. There is this undeniable sense, as though at any moment it could all end and anyone could be the cause.

As we approach the community living room area of the camp a fresh faced and bright eyed young woman is sitting in a chair along with a couple of others. We explain why we are there and that we are looking for anyone that wants to be interviewed about their experiences at Nickelsville. Erin Miller is her name and her words describe a place very unlike the images and ideas I have heard in the mainstream media. She challenges everything I have learned about Nickelsville in her first sentence. I know by the genuine look on her face and the very deliberate tone in her voice that she is the truth.

She explains to us how this is a family, a home, unlike any she has lived in before. Not only does everyone look out for each other, but the neighborhood around Nickelsville greatly benefits from their watchful eyes and concerned actions. It struck me how incredibly organized the camp was. Everything from food distribution to security duty to tent functionality is given a process and structure for implementation. There is a point person within the camp for anything that might come up or any camper who might need help or assistance with a camp related or life issue. Beyond the remarkable way the camp is planned and prepared and the inspiring ways the campers take accountability for their neighborhood’s safety and well being what hit me hardest was the strong sense of community and belonging they had cultivated at Nickelsville.

When Erin Miller describes the folks living at Nickelsville she explains to us with great pride how many skilled minds live there and have come from feeling like outsiders most of their lives, trying to find somewhere they belong. I immediately knew why Nichelsville existed. Memories of me sitting in my room alone, being yelled at for not being part of the family flooded my mind. “Why don’t I want to be with the family, why was I always locked in my room,” my father would demand to know. I couldn’t tell him that I hated his family; I hated his wife and all her children whom I consistently felt alienated and hurt by. It wasn’t their actions it was their thoughts, the way they saw the world and themselves in it. I would treasure the moments I got to escape and go back to my mom’s house for the week. A well needed rest from the harsh realities of my father’s family, one that mirrors the society we live in and not the community feel that Nickelsville offers its residents. Alone and isolated is what living in America has to offer the majority of its citizens. Seeing yourself as separate from others and in direct competition for resources and love. Not in Nickelsville though, a place that represented a location of safety and protection from the daily pressures of a Capitalistic society. A society where every man is for themselves; where any native culture and community is stripped in favor of hoarding and attaining as many resources as possible.

I knew that distinction well and when Erin said, “Cause this is our house, it’s our house and it’s different from any situation I’ve ever been in except when I was a kid at home,” it became even more clear. A home is where you are looked after and respected, not necessarily the place where wealth is accumulated. Although, my father’s house was warm and had four walls and a roof it never really felt like home. I knew I had to find my own home and what home meant to me, luckily I had my mother’s house to help figure that out, but everyone isn’t so lucky. Some people have never had a home until they find Nickelsville. Being an outsider is a lonely and segregated place that cuts people off from one of the most essential parts of being human, showing others your humanity and receiving theirs. I hadn’t seen so much humanity, so much caring and so much concern for fellow people in a very long time. Knowing Nickelsville and the amazing community they had created was in constant threat of losing its’ land was a rude awakening from the amazing words that fell from Erin Millers lips. How could anyone not see this was a place this large family needed and any others looking for a little support in a time when true community and a sense of belonging is a rarity.

Nickelsville has been made to move every two to six months for over two years, each time the mini-society they have created is devastatingly torn apart with no respect for the time and effort it took to create. Seattle has a long history of atrocities against the homeless communities of the city. Starting as far back as the mid 1930’s Seattle twice burnt down the wood and tin shacks of what was referred to in those years as “shanty towns” or “Hoovervilles”. It is estimated that those arsons burned down over 639 people’s homes living in the pop up town near where the sports stadiums are now located. Modern day arsons now consist of “sweeps” as the city calls them. Accompanied by arrests or detainment of Nickelsville residents and confiscation of the little possessions Nickelsville residents have managed to accrue. The despair of losing your belongings is no secret to anyone who has been robbed or had something lost or stolen, but to Nickelsville it is time, energy, and goods that they may never, ever be able to get back. Moving families is also a destructive force. Children are pulled away from their schools and friends over and over, being traumatized repeatedly. Stability for anyone is a necessity, but for young ones it is even more of a priority.

Nickelsville has been able to bounce back and recreate their community, which goes to show how incredibly important and necessary it is for the people who are part of it. I can’t help, but wonder where these families, these young eyes with entire lives ahead of them will end up if Nickelsville does not find a permanent location. What Nickelsville provides for its residents reaches well beyond the normal functioning of an average shelter or mission and many folks would lose an amazing community without it. Feeling alone and lost in the world is a horrible place to be, finding a family is not an easy task. It took me many years to find a community that allowed me to believe and see that it wasn’t my fault that I didn’t fit in or see things the way my father and his family did. I am lucky to have that support and confidence now. Without it I don’t know if I could face the world everyday with a brave face and an open heart.

I’ve got walls comin down
I've got noise all around
I'm hearin so much, so much sound
And I'm drownin, drownin now
And I can't see it clear
But I still have stear
And it feels like it's too much
And evils comin up the rear

And I'm drownin, drownin
Too much to fear
And I'm drownin, drownin
My make-up's smeared
Down hollow cheeks and snotty nose
All around, the noise, it grows
And help only feels like show
Cause no one really, really knows
or gets
or hears

Still I try
Nice to have someone on your side
Even if the noise they ride
I write,
They ride
I write,
They ride

Stormy seas of acidy insides
Billowing breeze
Blocking my mind's eye

Pressure headache
Pressure can't take
Falling all around me
So fake
I am to them
Hope I can swim to them
Cause I'm drownin, drownin                                                                                                                                                                                                                   In all of them

I don't even want to win
Giving up begins a trend
Filling up on others sins
Starting the descent begins
Harsh Winds
Dig In
Your heals
Try and stop the spinnin
Spin-in, Spin-in
Inside I spend when
The outside's too cold
Behind the door I fold

Cheery demeanor melts away
Tired and weary ends my day.

Check out these articles and more on our sister sites at Real Change and the International Network of Street Newspapers: INSP Vendor Blog: http://www.insp-blog.org/ INSP Main Website: http://www.street-papers.org/ Real Change Blog: http://www.insp-blog.org/realchange/ Real Change Main Website: http://www.realchangenews.org/


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