Road to Nickelsville filmmaker Derek McNeil, and the panel discussion facilitator, Casey Jaywork, share their opinions on how the public could help with Seattle’s existing homelessness after the premiere at the Northwest Film Forum on January 15, 2017. • Photo by Anran Lin

The public has a tendency that bothered Seattle filmmaker Derek McNeill: The negative assumptions they have about homeless people in Seattle.

So he set out to search for an answer that he hoped would change the public’s perception of the homeless population.

The Northwest Film Forum hosted the Seattle premiere of the documentary The Road to Nickelsville on January 15, which revealed some of the most brutal yet truthful stories of homeless people who were living in Nickelsville, a homeless encampment on Dearborn Street in Little Saigon. The residents were evicted by the city in March 2016. Since the release of the film last year, the Nickelsville has earned multiple awards, including the Best Inspirational Film at the Los Angeles Film Awards.

Colin McCredie, who is featured in the film, was a former Marine and an educated engineer who lived a middle-class lifestyle before becoming homeless. McCredie was evicted from his home because he adopted a dog.

“What would I say to people who think it couldn’t happen to them?” McCredie opened up in the film. “It comes suddenly.”

Many of the homeless people who were living in Nickelsville are not drug addicts. Most are just working class people who were forced to become homeless as a result of high rents and low wages.

Desiree Hoffman, another Nickelsville resident in the film, had been living in Nickelsville since 2015 with her 6-year-old son and her husband. Rising rents also forced Hoffman and her family to become homeless.

“We do have our struggles, but we’re a small community trying to make it by,” Hoffman said.

During the film, McNeill confessed that he had a hard time forgetting the presence of the Amazon building, which was sitting on the hill right next to Nickelsville when it used to be on South Dearborn Street, near the International District.

“The Amazon building, in a way that was almost offensive, it was just sitting on that hill, just mockingly looking down to these guys in their little camp,” said McNeill.

The premiere was a full house, followed by a panel discussion facilitated by McNeill and Casey Jaywork, a staff writer for Seattle Weekly. They talked about the reasons behind the rising homeless numbers and what the public could do to mitigate that number in Washington state.

Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute, said homelessness has grown for several reasons, and the most apparent reason being rising renting costs.

The view was shared by the audience, who also believed low wages and ongoing city projects are other driving forces behind the increasing number of the homeless population.

The City of Seattle has taken several measures to solve the homelessness issue. Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine have jointly declared a State of Emergency on Homelessness in November 2015, which focused a spotlight on the problem of making immediate help for homeless people easier. But these efforts are still not enough to address the existing homelessness issue, according to Lee.

“There have been some improvements,” said Lee. But, she said homelessness is not likely to be resolved soon, because there is no strong political will to prioritize building massive amounts of low-income and affordable housing.

“Seattle needs housing with rents that are low enough for people to exit homelessness,” Lee said. “That is what is necessary to truly solve the problem.”

The panel discussion reached the conclusion that the reason why people are homeless is not entirely the government’s fault.

“The city council doesn’t hate the homeless,” Jaywork said. “Most comes from neighbors’ complaints.”

McNeill and his team are still finding a distribution platform for The Road to Nickelsville. The Northwest Film Forum might have another screening in the future, depending on public interest.

In the meantime, anyone interested in this documentary can follow the film’s Facebook page where updates on screening or distribution can be found.

McCredie ended the night’s discussion by sharing his progress. He has been placed in temporary transitional housing, which has allowed him to be productive again.

“I am earning an extreme amount of money now,” McCredie said, “that it’s a miracle.”

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