A Nelson pastor is seeking $5,000 from the City of Nelson to formally study his idea of establishing a homeless camp in the area.
Jim Reimer of Kootenay Christian Fellowship told council Monday he already has tentative commitments of $5,000 from three rural areas of the Regional District of Central Kootenay and is seeking an equal amount from the city.
He has spoken to consultants who estimated such a study would cost $8,000 to $20,000.
Council referred the request to staff for a recommendation, although a couple of councillors signaled their willingness to fund the feasibility study from the city’s housing reserve fund.
Reimer proposed the idea over the summer on the heels of the dismantling of the Railtown homeless camp and the release of the Nelson Committee on Homelessness’s annual report which found shelter and soup kitchen visits on the rise.
“The homelessness issue certainly isn’t going away,” Reimer said. “A secure outdoor space would solve a whole host of problems.”
Reimer said such a campground could be a “safe haven” for homeless people, giving them a place to sleep, eat, use washroom facilities, receive messages, and meet with service providers.
However, he said at the moment, it’s illegal to sleep outdoors on public property. “I was shocked at that,” Reimer said. “Homeless people have nowhere to go legally.”
He stressed his idea is to address the local homeless population, not the transient one. “The pressing need is to look after those who are homeless who live in our community. The other group is another issue that needs to be addressed differently.”
Reimer said there are homeless people living in Nelson who are close to friends, family, and other support networks and it is “neither practical nor moral” to expect them to leave.
He added that in the absence of a camp, history has shown they will appear on their own, but minus the sanitation and security he envisions.
According to Reimer’s outline, the feasibility study would profile the homeless camping population, look at the risks presented by such a camp and how other places have handled similar issues, as well as the infrastructure, management, and budget required.
Reimer said Areas E director Ramona Faust and Area F director Ron Mickel have each agreed to put up $2,000 while Slocan Valley director Walter Popoff has provisionally agreed to $1,000 if he’s re-elected.
Stacey Locke, a homeless outreach worker at the Nelson Community Services Centre who has worked with nearly 400 people over the last six years, told council people presently sleeping outdoors are at risk. She pointed to a recent incident where a lifelong Nelson resident’s hand was rolled over by a delivery truck while he was sleeping in an alley.
“I would love to support this study just to see what creative solutions we can find for homeless people,” she said. “There’s a real shortage of resources.”
While numbers fluctuate, she estimated about 50 homeless people sleep outdoors.
Kerry Ainsworth, one of those displaced from the Railtown camp this summer, said something like it would likely be re-established anyway, and offered his help to create something more permanent.
“I’m tired of being cared for. I want to be cared about,” he said.
Councillors Robin Cherbo and Bob Adams indicated they were prepared to support Reimer’s request.
Councillor Donna Macdonald said it was at least worth having city staff examine the idea. She suggested community reception to the camp idea hinges on what the study finds: “If they can find examples of successes that show how all the challenges can be addressed, maybe it has a chance.”