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Filmmaker Walks 'The Road To Nickelsville' With Residents Of Seattle's Roving Homeless Camp

Derek McNeill
A Nickelsville resident featured in Derek McNeill's documentary, "The Road to Nickelsville"

Filmmaker Derek McNeill started with a question: What circumstances lead people to the roving Seattle homeless camp known as Nickelsville?

In mid-2015, he started looking for an answer.

McNeill took his camera to a Nickelsville community on Dearborn Street, where residents opened up about their lives before and after they entered the cluster of tiny houses and tents near I-5. People like a soft-spoken former engineer defied easy stereotypes of Seattle's homeless.

McNeill's 47-minute documentary, "The Road to Nickelsville," has its Seattle premier on Jan. 15, at the Northwest Film Forum. It's a portrait of the people who call the camp home -- and an exploration of the forces that pushed them there.

"You can't afford to move, obviously. You can't afford to stay. Where do you go?" said McNeill, a Bellevue resident. "That's how people end up in these communities, because they are simply priced out of life."

McNeill sat down with knkx reporter Will James for an interview about the people he met and what their experiences say about Seattle's housing affordability crisis.

"You ever have one of those dreams when you feel you're stuck in mud, and you're trying so hard to run and you can't run any faster?" McNeill said. "That's the sense I was trying to convey with this. They were trying so hard to move forward, but it's just like this slow, painful inertia." 

The Jan. 15 screening of "The Road to Nickelsville" is scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m. It's followed by a panel discussion. Tickets are available on the Northwest Film Forum website.

Credit Derek McNeill
An image from the documentary "The Road to Nickelsville" shows a man walking through the encampment

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.