Nickelsville came about in response to the sweeps of encampments ordered by former Mayor Greg Nickels.
After six months of organizing Nickelsville set up on an unused piece of city owned land on West Marginal Way on September 22, 2008. Volunteers and donors converged on the site and began setting up tents and building structures.
That afternoon the encampment was posted with notifications that it would be swept. Five days later several dozen homeless people and their allies were arrested. Nickelsville immediately set up on an adjacent state owned parking lot. Governor Gregoire allowed Nickelsville to remain long enough to find a new location.
Nickelodeons stayed together, moving between faith communities, private land, and public land for the next eight years, many times without a permit. A year after its founding the encampment was swept from T-l107 Terminal Access Park by the Port of Seattle and a dozen people, including an 81 year old woman, were arrested, but Nickelsville never ceased to operate.
After the election of Mayor McGinn Nickelsville was allowed to stay in and around Old Firehouse #39 in Lake City. When no other location was offered Nickelodeons voted to return to the very fist site near the Duwammish Waterway, which had sat empty for the intervening years.
During the next two and a half years Nickelsville swelled to 170 people at one point, added a garden through a grant from the City of Seattle, and had two goats. Unfortunately, there was no police protection at that location, which was unsafe. This marked a low point in the encampment's history because it was difficult to uphold the zero tolerance rules. In 2015 the Seattle City Council said that Nickelsville had to leave by Labor Day or be swept. Three new locations were found and permits granted. One of the locations was owned by the Low Income Housing Institute, and a partnership was formed which continues until today.
After a year and a half stay next to Jose Rizal Park Nickelsville began opening tiny house villages. LIHI was to provide case managers and e the conduit for funding from the City of Seattle, while Nickelsville iwas to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the sites.
In March, 2019, LIHI was backed by the Seattle Human Services Department in an attempt to take over three of the Nickelsville Tiny House Villages. On April 8th a group of 15 paid recruits from Camp Second Chance bum-rushed Nickelsville Othello. Carrying crowbars and bolt cutters, the intruders pushed Nickelodeons aside and took over the Security Shack.
Occupied Othello immediately went on strike, refusing to do the work the LIHI Security Guards were being paid to do. It cost LIHI $800.00 dollars per day to pay for security. The entire budget for Othello Village is around $400,000 per year of taxpayer dollars.
Nickelsville Northlake began to watch its latched gate. LIHI Staff members Brad Gerber and Josh Castle harassed the Northlake camp, showing up at the gate repeatedly, despite requests to go away. After several attempts to comply, yet still be safe from bum-rushing by LIHI, the Fire Marshall declared that Northlake's revised gate latch did not violate the fire code. The LIHI Case Manager was allowed to continue to work inside the village, although one warning was issued by village leadership to him after he inappropriately interfered in village business. A letter was written from the village to LIHI's Executive Director, Sharon Lee, asking her to stop LIHI's harassment of Nickelsville Northlake.
Nickelsville and allies requested mediation between Nickelsville, LIHI, and HSD. LIHI has refused mediation thus far, despite being encouraged to do so through a petition carrying over 100 signatures including the Transit Riders Union, Council Member Kshama Sawant,
and numerous faith leaders, activists, academics, and other concerned citizens. An online petition drew over 800 signatures.
Nickelsville's villages are self-governed by the homeless people who live there. Each person has weekly obligations, while elected leaders make sure rules are followed and solve problems that arise. Once a week people gather to conduct Nickelsville business at the Nickelsville Central Committee Meeting.
The early planning for Nickelsville envisioned people living in small, simple, sturdy sleeping structures, or "5S's." At the first site donated lumber scraps were used to build simple structures. The first tiny house was built while Nickelsville was in the Lake City Firehouse. It was moved to the Duwamish site when Nickelsville returned there for a second stay. It was during this second stay that a dozen tiny house were donated and constructied by various civic and faith-based organizations and by individual donors. An architect, Dennis DePape, designed plans for a basic tiny house.
the number of tiny houses increased further while Nickelsville was located at Dearborn Street.
The first rough tiny houses September 22, 2008.
The first permanent tiny house was built at the Lake City Firehouse in 2010.
A dozen tiny houses were built during Nickelsville's second stay near the Duwamish in 2011-2014.