Nickelsville, .
  • Ben Steiner
  • Inside Nickelsville, one of Seattle's three "tent cities."

Seattle has a long history of dealing with homelessness. One solution was "tent cities," encampments that house about 300 of Seattle's roughly 8,000 homeless people. One of those camps was founded in 2008 and dubbed Nickelsville, named after former mayor Greg Nickels, who had evicted the campers from various plots of public land until they moved to their current home near West Marginal Way in West Seattle.

On Sunday, March 17, Seattle police paid a rare visit to Nickelsville. They were responding to a 911 call from a resident who said she was being forcefully evicted by a pack of other campers. The police report contained allegations of rape, mob rule, and corruption—so I wanted to find out more. I discovered that although the situation was a mess, it was not indicative of mob rule. It was a symptom of a small community of people, living on the fringes of society, who feel they have no choice but to establish their own justice system.

Officer Larry Longley arrived at the camp around noon that Sunday and found a group of Nickelsville residents surrounding a tent with axes, splitting mauls, and crowbars, a police report alleges. After wading through the crowd of people trying to distract him, Longley began to conduct interviews.

The short version of the story is that one woman was being evicted by the camp's "security council," a group of campers charged with overseeing the camp's safety. The police report says that the woman and her boyfriend had been "barred" from the camp for threatening to call the police with allegations of sexual assault. Calling the police without first consulting the security council, the camp's head of security told the police, was a breach of Nickelsville's code.