Housing protest camps out at Nelson City Hall

Protesters pitched tents outside Nelson City Hall on Saturday in an effort to raise awareness about affordable housing.

Protesters pitched tents outside Nelson City Hall on Saturday in an effort to raise awareness about affordable housing.

Kieran and Cass Bryers live with their two children in a cramped cabin just outside of Nelson. There’s no bathroom or running hot water. They bathe in a Tupperware bin.

It’s the only place they can afford to live.

“When I speak to my grandmother about this, she tells me she lived the same way in the 1930s during the Great Depression,” said Kieran Bryers. “That for me doesn’t speak kindly that in [over] 80 years we haven’t progressed our standard quality of life.”

The Bryers family were part of a group protesting affordable housing outside Nelson City Hall on Saturday. Tents were set up on the front lawn of the building, which is also a closed camping ground. The family didn’t stay the night. Their kids were cold and wet, and they’d been told by Nelson Police that the tents couldn’t be occupied.

But they hope someone has heard their message all the same.

The Bryers family moved to Nelson in August 2015, but had to stay in an RV near the airport for the first two months while they searched for living space. They ended up in a small trailer near Winlaw, but $780 hydro bills forced them to leave.

“It comes to a point where there isn’t enough couch space for everyone,” said Bryers. “As much as you’d like to open your heart and open your home, there’s zero vacancy. That includes couches, that includes basements, that includes attics. None of these spaces are free. People are being stuffed into Volkswagen vans. Any walls and roof is what people are going for because that’s how much of a crunch it is.”

At least the Bryers have a roof.

Matt Reeder, who was also at the protest, sleeps in the forest because he can’t afford anything in Nelson.

“When I was here five years ago, I managed to find a one-bedroom house for $1,000,” said Reeder.

“It had a basement so I was able to partition that off into two-separate areas and rent it for two more people. [I could] afford it on the $300 from social services, which is what I’m on now. It’s not enough to get a room in someone’s grandma’s basement. It’s time to start thinking about community housing, shared living and cheaper options.”

The group want to see more affordable housing in Nelson, but also more shelter spaces for women and children. Kieran Bryers criticized Airbnb landlords for removing local rental options. The city amended its business licence, zoning, and off-street parking bylaws in August to address short-term rentals such as Airbnb properties.

“It’s not acceptable for people to put profit before families, but that is what is happening currently with a lot of short-term rentals,” he said.

“There are houses that are remaining vacant while people are sleeping outside. That’s unacceptable as far as I’m concerned.”

Nearby, five-year-old Jeremy Bryers held up a sign that said, “No Camping” while Cass Bryers breastfed seven-month-old Natesa.

The couple said they would be reluctant to speak out if they didn’t have a roof over their heads. Other homeless families they know don’t want to go public for fear the Ministry of Children and Family Development would take their children away.

“I was talking to my girlfriend this morning and she was in tears because she’s been bouncing around from motel to shelter to a friend’s couch for the last two weeks, and her son — who is three — keeps asking to go home,” said Cass Bryers.

“Where’s home? She’s five months pregnant and emotional, and every time he asks to go home she’s in tears. …

“That’s got to be heartbreaking.”

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