Nelson city council has declined a request for $5,000 to study creating a permanent campground for the homeless, although the idea hasn’t been ruled out entirely.
The city’s housing committee met late last month to consider a suggestion from Pastor Jim Reimer, who feels a “secure outdoor space” could solve the perennial problem of homeless encampments appearing on CPR land west of the city. One such camp was broken up this past summer.
Reimer secured pledges from three Regional District of Central Kootenay directors totaling $5,000 and was seeking an equal amount from the city. Consultants told him such a study would cost $8,000 to $20,000.
Following Reimer’s pitch to council in September, the matter was referred to the Nelson Housing Committee, a 16-member group with representation from non-profit housing providers, would-be providers, landlords, and the community-at-large, including downtown businesses.
Reimer represents Kootenay Christian Fellowship on the committee but left the room during what city councillor Donna Macdonald called a “very thorough and extensive discussion.”
She explained the committee had two concerns. First, they weren’t sure what group was sponsoring the project, and second it “seemed like moving to a solution before we understand the problem.”
“We need to know who our indigenous homeless population is,” she said. “Do they like living outside? Would they rather live in a building? We need to understand what their needs are before we design solutions.”
The committee’s recommendation to council, which was adopted, was that the city decline the funding request but ask the Nelson Committee on Homelessness whether it or one of its member agencies can tackle a phased approach to the issue, starting with determining how great the need is.
The latter committee has representation from several groups dedicated to addressing poverty and homelessness.
Reimer said Tuesday he was “obviously disappointed” and “a little surprised” with council’s decision but was willing to work with the homelessness committee and had not given up on the idea. “I don’t think the concept is dead. We’re just going to revisit it and see how we can move forward,” he said.
Reimer insisted there is “tremendous support” in the community, judging by the many phone calls and emails he has received, as well as donations. But he also acknowledged some “angst.”
“What’s it going to look like, who would operate it, who is it going to affect? These are valid questions. We’ll take it back to the committee and have a look.”
Reimer predicted Nelson’s homeless problem will worsen after federal housing subsidies end early next year. He expects more people will be left in an “untenable situation” where they can’t afford rent and have no alternative to sleeping outdoors.
Reimer said while council didn’t fund the study, he’s happy the idea will be explored in other ways.
“While it might look negative, it’s actually a positive. How can we solve a problem in our community? Let’s have a conversation about it.”