Jeff Matthews is not sure where he and his wife and two kids will go when the city campground closes in October. It has become their home.
The family moved from northern BC in early summer because Jeff’s wife got a job in Nelson.
“We have been trying to find a house, but it is finding the price point that fits a young family. Anything within our range gets snapped up quickly. I am not adverse to doing some work on a house because I am a carpenter. A fixer-upper would work. I took the summer off to watch the kids, and now they are in school, so I will be looking for work.”
Matthews’ tent trailer home is one of six similar situations at the campground: people who have been in the campground since the spring, looking for housing.
Jeff Matthews has been living in the city campground with his wife and two kids since early summer while trying to find an affordable house.
“In the summer there were 10 to 15 [people],” says campground attendant Kim Wilson. “They come from all over Canada and we had a family here from Austria. We have had all different types of people looking for housing. It is not just transients passing through, it is families, it’s people looking to start businesses here. It is all sorts of people each with their own unique situation.”
The campground is owned by the city and run by the Nelson and District Youth Centre.
The rental vacancy rate in Nelson was zero per cent in the fall of 2015 according to the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, citing the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the housing market has been very tight all summer, with stiff competition among buyers and high prices.
Jean-François Hébert has been living in the campground all summer after having many frustrating experiences trying to find a rental. He says he will be studying at Selkirk in the spring.
Daniella and Flávio Franco, who were looking for a rental last spring, ended up buying a trailer and moving into the campground. They still have not found anything, and Daniella says the biggest barrier is that the few landlords with rentals shy away from renting to a family with three pre-schoolers.
Flávio has been studying resort management at Selkirk College and the family plans to move to Edmonton when the campground shuts down in October. She says the campground has had unexpected benefits, especially for her children, and those are about community.
Daniella Franco, her husband and her three daughters have been living at the campground since the spring.
“I have three babies and they are loving the camping. For us this is like a school for them. They are learning about English, nature, respecting other people. The people here are great.”
Jean-François Hébert, perched on a raised tent platform built into the hillside in the trees, says looking for a rental has been disappointing and frustrating.
“I’ve been here for two and a half months,” he says.
“It is hard to connect with landlords because the rooms they have are very tiny for the amount that is being asked, and sharing toilets and whatnot.
“It is about quality of life. Nobody can live in a kennel. That is all that is available now, pipes coming out all over the place, everything waiting for repairs. I have a better quality of life living in this campground.”
Hébert says he will start at Selkirk College later this year studying early childhood education.
“There is a huge need for men in that area. I studied criminology and psychology in Montreal and I decided to come to BC and study in English.”
Ed Spiteri, who has a full-time trades job in Nelson, lives in his bus. He is not sure what he will do when the campground shuts down for the winter.
The most noticeable home in the campground this summer is Ed Spiteri’s large bus. He’s converted the interior to function as living quarters.
He says he can’t find a rental and the campground is the only place he’s found to park his bus while looking. He’s been there four months. He works full time as an automotive painter at a local auto body shop.
Spiteri is not sure what he will do when the campground shuts down for the winter.
“I hope by the time they do that I can find a place. If I can’t, I need to find a place to park the bus. I’ve never lived in it in the winter, but I hear winters not that cold here.”
There is a move afoot to extend the campground’s season through the winter and winterize the office building, but that is in the very early stages, according to youth centre project manager Derek Youngblutt. A proposal will be taken to the city’s housing committee this week.
In the meantime, campground attendant Wilson says it has been a learning experience for her.
“Being an attendant here has been a great experience and really eye-opening, because it is shocking how real the situation is.”