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At Roughest of Nickelsville's New Sites, a Strong Sense of Community

Monica Spain
Felicia Leathley stands outside her tent.

What used to be Nickelsville is now three. The homeless encampment split up into three locations—two in the city’s Central District and the third in Skyway—after being evicted from city-owned property two months ago.

The campsite at Skyway appears to have it the worst in almost every way, but it’s also where campers have found unwavering camaraderie.

Credit Monica Spain

“There’s no running water here. There’s no electricity all day, and really, the only heat we got is the fire,” said a camper named Mark, who wished only to be identified by his first name, as he sat around the fire, sharing cigarettes with other campers.

The site near Renton sits under the shadow of a mountain of rubble from a nearby concrete recycling center.  The camp has portable toilet, but campers have to get their drinking water from a hose at a local business. There are no dumpsters on site, and campers rely on volunteers to haul garbage away before raccoons get to it.  

Still, Lacey Atmore says even when spots opened up in a camp with water and electricity, everyone decided to stay in Skyway in order to stay together.

Credit Monica Spain
Felicia Leathley feeds the encamptment's pet goats.

“We all seem to keep each other happy in the worst situation you could be in, so, we all look out for each other,” she said.  

The youngest resident at the Skyway camp is 19-year-old Felicia Leathley. She isn’t far from home, having gone to the elementary school up the street. Pregnant and estranged from her family, Leathley says she has found something at Nickelsville:  “security, safety, comfort.”

“They’re my family. They’re my brothers, my sisters. They’re my uncles my aunts, my mom, my dad—the ones I never had,” Leathley said.

Credit Monica Spain

Leathley says members of this Nickelsville group leans on each other. Her fellow campers even offered to take her to a doctor for prenatal care. They take turns guarding at night, and although there are complaints that not everyone pitches in to help, minimal creature comforts like the makeshift kitchen and the ability to relax by the fire help make life feel more stable.

But the stability may only be fleeting. The skyway camp needs to find a new location before Dec. 1.

“Yeah, it’s going to be difficult,” said Leathley, “but I mean, it’s my family. I’ll stick with them ‘til the end.  I’ll pack my stuff up and put it where it needs to go.”

When they do go, it’s likely to be costly, both emotionally and financially. The Nickelsville camps, which run off of donations, still owe more than $9,000 in utilities and moving costs from the old location.