A vision for a sustainable eco-village
The sky was blue, fall was in the air and the tour of Nickelsville had commenced. Members of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County (CEHKC) Governing Board stood watching as camp members showed off the “simple, small, sturdy sleeping structures” that some Nickelodeons now call home.
They look like garden sheds, cost around $1,000 to build and can be lifted onto a flatbed and moved. They sit along well-tended paths near a modest, portable community garden. A few are outfitted with drainage systems to collect rainwater. A tiny solar panel charges a battery that powers lamps for evening light.
The houses are part of a vision for a sustainable eco-village that would have minimal impact on the land and offer shelter and community to those who might otherwise have neither.
The community spirit at Nickelsville that morning was palpable. Yet, one person’s home is another’s hovel. Where one sees warmth, security and privacy, another might find an impoverished and blighted shantytown, filled with rough tents and substandard shacks.
We were there to bridge the perspectives, and it wasn’t going to be easy.
As the two sides sat down to talk, Jarvis Capucion, from Tent City 3, came straight to the point: “Is the safety and survival of homeless people a priority for CEHKC?”
The question seemed to take them by surprise. Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg waffled. “I don’t know if I’m capable of answering that,” he began. The distinguished Jesuit spoke blandly of big pictures and long-term priorities while the homeless folks around the circle looked on.
Car Toys CEO and CEHKC President Dan Brettler steered us toward common ground. cehkc’s work, he said, is to meet people’s needs tonight while working on the long-term solution. “The question,” he said, “is how to match resources to needs.”
Former Washington Governor Mike Lowry shook his head and jumped in with an unqualified “yes,” as far as he was concerned. He then asked if by “safe and secure tonight,” we meant places like Nickelsville?
“Yes, we do,” said a homeless woman. “Places like this keep us safe until we can have the housing you are building.
“If I don’t get into a shelter, I’m sleeping on the street. When I’m here, I’m not going to die tonight. I’m not going to be raped. I’m not going to be robbed. I feel safer here than in a shelter where I have to watch my back.”
This was, perhaps, the truest moment of the morning, and we all knew it.
Everybody knew that nearly 2,600 people were counted outside this year after shelters were full. We knew that families are referred to Nickelsville because they lack anywhere else to go, and that the need for shelter, let alone housing, outstrips demand.
This, among well-meaning and committed people, is common ground.
David Freiboth, executive secretary of the King County Labor Council, aptly named the problem. “The policy issue is one of housing versus shelter. Replacing shelter with housing is resource intensive, and resources are dwindling. What you’re saying here is that it’s not working. So what are you going to do?”
He heard right. That is the question. We need to keep working together on the answers.
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