The City of Nelson has work underway to address concerns surrounding the community’s vulnerable population camps.
At the beginning of September, the city cleared out a camp on the rock wall off Edgewood Avenue.
The city’s community planning manager, Chris Johnson, told council last week that the cleanup was prompted by increasing complaints of criminal activity, noise and garbage in the area.
Johnson explained the cleanup was organized in collaboration with Nelson’s street outreach team who were sent in months in advance to warn the population occupying the area that they would be forced to leave if the issues weren’t addressed.
Jeremy Kelly, a member of the outreach team who was involved in the cleanup process, said when the people occupying the area were first approached, they were understanding and willing to work on keeping the area free of concern.
“When the clubhouse closed in the early spring our clients that used to congregate around the clubhouse moved over to Edgewood,” he said
“When they first moved in, we started telling them they had to be more respectful, and they understood and said they would do their best to keep the area clean. Unfortunately, it was a situation where one or two bad apples ruined it for everyone.”
Kelly explained that the area started to become a sort of party place where people were hosting visitors from out of town who were causing the disturbances rather than the individuals living in the camp.
The outreach team was responsible for warning the area’s occupants of the potential of a clear out and eventually giving them a few days’ notice before it occurred.
When they were officially told to leave, Kelly explained that the group was concerned as there’s little to no other option available for the community’s unhoused.
“The people were suitably distraught but obviously they understood that it wasn’t suitable living there. These folks want housing. They asked us where they were supposed to go, and we didn’t have answers for them,” Kelly says.
“It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. We move them from one location to another and then it becomes an issue there. You’re just basically moving these people around because there’s no suitable housing here and no suitable place for them to be.”
A three-tier housing program is the solution according to Kelly, who explained that the city needs a housing facility that provides a three-step re-integration program for individuals who have lived outdoors for multiple years.
“These types of programs are important because people have become so accustomed to living outdoors that they lose the basic life skills. If you don’t have a regular schedule it’s really hard to get that and maintain that once you’ve lived unstructured for so long.”
Kelly says he’s unsure where the area’s occupants relocated, but he is aware that some dispersed over to a camp set up on Government Road which is another area of concern for the city.
During his council update, Chris Johnson said the latter camp has also received complaints due to the increased garbage surrounding the site, which he says is usually the result of “Good Samaratins” who leave items out around town for the unhoused population that end up accumulating and becoming a mess.
“We are working on having the same street outreach team start discussions about our next steps which will be a cleanup at Government Road, because a lot of stuff has built up,” Johnson said
“We talked with ANKORS recently and the main message to us was to stop people from putting things out on their curbs, because their clients don’t know what’s good and take everything which ends up looking like they’re hoarding.”
He said the city plans to address the area before the snow falls but Kelly said the outreach team has already been engaging in conversations and activities to clean the area up.
“We are there daily connecting with our folks and offering basic services, such as wound care and other supports that we can offer them, some basic food services. We provide garbage bags and then coordinate with the city for garbage pickup and cleanup as well.”
Kelly says he appreciates the compassionate work and efforts made by the city and specifically Johnson for putting in the work to clean up the area in a way that benefits the community as a whole.
“We are really excited to be working as close as we are with Chris Johnson at the City of Nelson and he’s doing incredible work there. It’s so refreshing to have somebody at the city that is proactive and as a humanitarian leader.”