Nickelsville: Seattle's Homeless Name New Tent City After City's Mayor
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JUAN GONZALEZ: As the nation’s economic and housing crisis worsens, homelessness is also on the rise. A report from the National Center for Family Homelessness estimates that one in fifty American children are now homeless. With the number of homeless people far exceeding the existing network of shelters, an increasing number of people are setting up roving encampments or shanty towns that are popularly known as tent cities.
AMY GOODMAN: And right here in Seattle, tent cities have been around since the late ’90s, have also served as centers for organizing around affordable housing and services for the homeless. Seattle’s newest tent city is called Nickelsville. The encampment is made up of over a hundred pink tents and is named to protest the Mayor Greg Nickels’s policies around the homeless.
I’m joined here in Seattle by two people: Bruce Beavers, who lives in Nickelsville, and Anitra Freeman. She is formerly homeless. She is with the homeless organizing groups in Seattle.
And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!
BRUCE BEAVERS: Thank you.
ANITRA FREEMAN: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce, when did you start living at Nickelsville, and why name it for the mayor?
BRUCE BEAVERS: Well, I started living in Nickelsville on September the 25th. Why we named it Nickelsville, after the mayor, because the mayor actually single-handedly have actually—he didn’t start homelessness, but he’s actually single-handedly trying to drive homeless out of Seattle.
AMY GOODMAN: In what way?
BRUCE BEAVERS: Well, he continuously to disrupt Nickelsville. He has thrown us off a piece of property that we actually found that would have been just perfect for Nickelsville to actually build their houses and sustain a nice place to live. He actually drove us off. He arrested twenty-five people. He continuously to threaten our hopes of giving us any kind of help. You know, so he’s really, really just been a [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: Anitra?
ANITRA FREEMAN: He’s harassing all of the encampments. There are thousands of people who are outside. The shelters have been inadequate for years. There’s never been enough shelter for everybody. There are thousands of people outside, people camping. And instead of helping the people who are trying to survive outside, Nickels single-handedly started a program of harassing them, of chasing people out of encampments and actually destroying their camping gear. And he set up one showcase shelter for fifty people that costs $500 million—no, half-a-million dollars a year, and while this network of self-managed shelters that the homeless organizing group does can shelter 500 people a night for the same amount of money.
AMY GOODMAN: My colleague in New York, Juan Gonzalez, wants to ask you a question. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Bruce Beavers, if you could share with our audience, what happened with you in your particular situation that you ended up homeless and how you got involved more as an activist?
BRUCE BEAVERS: Well, I used to—from ’95 to 2005, I actually worked at a company called Acme Food Sales. It’s an import/export company of canned goods. It’s right here in Seattle off First Avenue. I was there for quite awhile. I became the warehouse manager there.
Once me and Acme kind of broke up and went our separate ways, that was a big salary I had. I tried to actually complement the salary by working at Dollar Tree, assistant manager at Dollar Tree, in Federal Way for about a year. And then, that didn’t makes the money, and I went to [inaudible].
My bills was constantly adding up. I went—my house would wind up going into foreclosure about the end of 2003. So, by 2007, all of my bills was coming so far over my head I couldn’t afford it. And by 2008, I actually lost the house and everything else.