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Pastor Jim Reimer asks council to fund feasibility study for a secure homeless camp

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
September 19th, 2014

Pastor Jim Reimer is trying to raise $8000 to fund a feasibility study on setting up a managed campground for homeless people. This week he asked city council to contribute. 

The meeting was council’s monthly Committee of the Whole meetings at which council hears from the public and does not make decisions.

In an interview following the meeting, Reimer outlined his plan.

“Not a drug-infested party full of transients”

“What I want to see is a plot of land that is managed, where a person can put up a tent or teepee or lean-to, and no one is going to come and kick them out. It has clean water, sanitation, and maybe a communal kitchen.

“The manager would make sure it is not a drug-infested party full of transients. It is a safe, secure place, where they know that no-one is going to steal their stuff.”

“So much anxiety”

“There is so much anxiety that a homeless person has. They don’t know whether the police are going to come, whether someone is going to kick them when they are in their sleeping bag, don’t know if someone is going to steal from them.”

Reimer’s church, the Kootenay Christian Fellowship, runs Our Daily Bread, a hot meal program that serves more than 14,000 meals per year to people in need in Nelson.

Feasibility study would get the facts and gauge community acceptance

Reimer says he has received very little support for the camp idea but a lot for the feasibility study. 

“Nobody wants to say, yes I support this, without knowing the facts,” he said. “So we need a feasibility study to get the facts, and I’m getting tons of support for that.”

The feasibility study would look at location, fire safety, water, waste management, land tenure, budget, funding, management, and public acceptance

He told council that two Regional District of Central Kootenay area representatives—Ron Mikkel and Ramona Faust—have said they will contribute to the study, but that could depend on the upcoming election.

“Police would be less busy.”

“When we started Our Daily Bread,” said Reimer, “there were people adamantly opposed to it because they said crime was going to increase, more homeless people are going to come to the city, and everything is going to come crashing down, the police will be busier. The opposite happened. The police would be less busy if we had one of these secure outdoor spaces.”

Dealing with the core issues of life

“Because when people have food and a secure place to sleep they have less anxiety, which results in less mental illness, less drug use, less alcohol use. All the studies show that what precipitates use of alcohol and drugs is anxiety. Lessen anxiety and you get less social problems.

“Once you deal with the core issues of life, like a place that is safe to sleep and eat, then a person can start dealing with, OK, what am I going to do with my life, and next thing you know, they don’t need us any more. We have seen this at Our Daily Bread.

“I don’t want to call it a homeless campground,” he said. “I call it a secure outdoor space with supportive services.

Reimer said such projects have been tried with varying success in other places but rarely with municipal backing. The exception, he said, is Dignity Village in Portland, which he points to as a good model.

Council will discuss at its next meeting

Reimer told council he is trying to raise at least $8000 for the feasibility study and he asked council to contribute. He did not name a specific amount.

“I would like to see us give $5000 now,” said Councillor Robin Cherbo.

“No, we do not make decisions at Committee of the Whole meetings,” said acting mayor Deb Kozak.

“Let’s do it now,” said Cherbo. “We direct staff to come back at next meeting with money from the housing fund. We don’t have enough money in that housing fund to build an apartment, never mind a house.”

Council agreed to refer Reimer’s request for funding to management staff, without naming a specific amount. Staff will come to a future regular council meeting with a recommendation to be discussed or debated at that time.

“You can’t have it both ways”

“Maclean’s magazine says Nelson is one of the best ten spots in Canada to visit,” said Reimer. “Well, they did not say it was just for people who have money. Other people want to be here too, because it is a great place. You can’t have it both ways.”

Reimer says the clearing out of the rail camp west of town “made me angry. The reasons they used for it—unsanitary, unsafe, so much garbage—those things are true. But the only reason they are true is because nobody did anything about it for eight years.

“A truck picks up my garbage every week”

Reimer says the camp was cleared in a similar way eight years ago.

“Then they ignored it for eight years and my thought was, how much garbage would be piled up in Nelson if we didn’t have garbage pickup for eight years. But the inference was these are a bunch of lazy bums with garbage piled up. A truck comes to my house and picks up my garbage every week.”

Bill Metcalfe is a freelance journalist who covers Nelson city hall for The Nelson Daily. To receive a regular twice-monthly email with links to his most recent city hall stories, send a request notification to

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