Adam Hutchison woke up face-to-face with Nelson law enforcement on Tuesday morning.
“Yesterday I woke up to a number of officers asking me to exit what was my friend’s wigwam,” said the 29 year old, who has been living in the Railtown encampment since April. “I was told to leave and pack my things.”
Hutchison had returned to the camp the night before after finishing his dishwashing shift at the Adventure Hotel. He lives with his dog Duke in the camp, which some estimate has been there for as long as eight years.
Hutchison said he’ll now have to find a different place to pitch his tent.
“I slept beside the highway last night. I was afraid to put my tent up because I didn’t want them to take it,” he said. “I have to work at 6 and I don’t get off till midnight. Before I knew how to get home. Now I’ve got nowhere to put my home.”
But his main concern is for those residents who weren’t in attendance during the cleanup, because many of them have lost all of their worldly possessions.
A fellow Railtown resident, who asked to be identified as Jade, was heartbroken by the dismantling of the camp.
“We were all staying on the side. We weren’t even on railroad property, we were on highway property. They were some people making a mess, but lots weren’t. We just needed a place to stay,” she said.
Both Jade and 24-year-old Lando Dallamore mentioned that authorities have been tying blue ribbons on trees to mark the campsites.
“Basically a raid happened,” said Dallamore, adding that the housing situation in Nelson is “hopeless.”
Another Railtown resident, who opted to go by Trevor, has been living in Railtown since last fall. He said concerns about cleanliness were well-founded.
“I came across this community a while back and I helped a few people set up some things. Immediately I noticed a lot of concerns, probably what the RCMP are worried about themselves. There was a big effort to do a mass cleanup of garbage and, from what I’ve seen, must’ve been years of trashing the place.”
He said while some residents are happy to “ask people for money for beer,” others are hard-working but incapable of finding adequate living situations.
April Coyle, coordinator at Our Daily Bread, has been helping the evictees find support. But it hasn’t been easy.
“I just want to point out to folks out there that somebody on welfare as a single person makes $610 a month, and gets $375 for rent. As folks may be well aware, it’s pretty hard to find a place for that.”
According to Jim Reimer, pastor at Kootenay Christian Fellowship, authorities are pouring resources into a homelessness strategy that doesn’t work.
“The thing that concerns me about the recent action is it provides absolutely no solution. It’s easy to go in there and say ‘let’s get this campsite out’ but then what? What’s the solution?” he asked.
He said the community wants to support those struggling with housing and financial problems, but they don’t currently have a system to effectively do so.
“I was homeless at one point in my life,” said Reimer. “Every single person in Nelson is a just a few degrees away from homelessness. And some are closer than that. For many people, it’s just one paycheque away.”
Ann Harvey of the Nelson Committee on Homelessness said this situation is the inevitable outcome of Nelson’s current housing shortage, as highlighted by the recent release of the annual report on homelessness.
“There’s obviously not in-town housing and shelter alternatives that are working for those folks,” she said. “I think it’s an issue that’s been around for years and it’s not going to go away. What it might take is a serious, coordinated conversation in the community about what can be done.”
She said the committee will be discussing the incident at their next meeting, and will debrief with the agencies involved.
“We’re going to start the conversation then. We need to discuss what alternatives there could be that have been discussed in the past but we haven’t had the time or resources involved to make them happen.”