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Inspiration for The Road to Nickelsville

When watching the news one morning I saw a story about a homeless encampment in Seattle called Nickelsville. The controversy was over the location moving from one neighborhood to another, and the inevitable resistance from the incoming neighborhood. What caught my attention visually was the sea of pink tents and structures which I later came to understand were donated by The Girl Scouts. What struck me emotionally was that homelessness had become so pervasive in Seattle that there was this a high degree of organization, as if it were a camp of homesteaders on the Oregon Trail.

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As I monitored local media, and listened to people talk about subject in general, I was struck (as I often am) by the degree of detail in everyone’s presumptions about who these people were, and why they were homeless. I’d been looking for a subject to do a documentary on, and this rose to the surface as I became increasingly curious about the residents of this encampment, and irritated by the tone of conversation about them. As a person who seeks the answers, this was a great opportunity to learn first-hand about one of humanities greatest sociological challenges from the people who were living it.

I began with the theory that the residents of these encampments were likely no different than anyone; that like everyone they’d experienced bad things, but that the consequences had been harder than for most. What I discovered was there was a whole range of reasons people were homeless ranging from chronic poverty and addiction, to a middle-class man who lost his investments during the economic crisis. What rose to the surface as the most common trend however was the rapid increase in the cost of living the greater Seattle area, due in part to the tech boom, which will be the subject of my next film that I’ve already begun shooting.

Details aside, The Road to Nickelsville is about making a connection between a handful of individuals, and an audience, on a very personal level. Through music, cinematography, and frank conversations I’ve sought to amplify, and bring to light, the very real, human drama that is unfolding in Seattle as the lower middle class and below are being decimated in direct proportion to the success of the greater community around them.

Given that the group of people I followed were so varied, their back stories, and their present is equally different both in sadness and in hope.

Written by Derek McNeill, Director of The Road to Nickelsville

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