The city has been clear: In less than two weeks, Nickelsville's 175 residents are supposed to leave their homeless encampment in a West Seattle field or be evicted. That was the decision made back in June, when the Seattle City Council directed Mayor Mike McGinn to kick all squatters off the city-owned property, where they've been camping illegally since May 2011. Posted on a utility pole out front, a sign warns campers: "NOTICE OF ENCAMPMENT CLOSURE: This site will be closed to shelter and storage effective 9/1/2013."
But instead of residents fleeing, pilgrims are arriving every week. It's getting bigger. So what's going to happen?
On a recent sun-seared afternoon, John Jolly, 39, played tour guide to Nickelsville, where he's lived for the past three months. "It's been a blessing having somewhere to go where you're not alone," he said while walking through rows of tents and structures, surrounded by thickets of blackberry bushes. About 80 to 100 campers called Nickelsville home in June, but Jolly estimates there are now around 175. The Union Gospel Mission (UGM), contracted by the city to work with Nickelsville residents, puts that number at 125.
But anti-encampment council members are not happy with the swelling population. As Council Member Tom Rasmussen wrote in an e-mail to colleagues in late July, "I am alarmed that more people are being allowed to move onto the site... It will mean that by the deadline the Mayor has agreed to there may still be people living in Nickelsville."