Karen Targett, otherwise known as Janine, is one of the several homeless people occupying Nelson's main street. Photo: Brittany Spencer.

Central city sleepers on the rise


Karen Targett is 52-years-old, partially deaf and lives on Trafalgar St, not in one of the buildings or homes, but on the pavement in front of Farmers.

Karen, who goes by her middle name “Janine”, is one of several homeless people now living on the main street. It is an issue that Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese is calling an “escalating situation” that is “testing Nelsonians’ patience”.

After living in a mental health unit, and then Franklyn Village before being asked to leave, Janine now finds herself sleeping on a mattress out in the cold, surrounded by her few possessions.

“I’m on the street but I have food in my tummy and that is a lot.”

Janine is on a living support benefit and received $275.79 in her bank account last week.

“When you look at that amount you think ‘wow, that’s a lot’, but when you’re renting, the cheapest place is about $150 per week, you take that away and you’ve still got to pay for food, transport costs, washing, and then if you want to have a smoke or a bit of a social life, well, I don’t think you’ll manage much.”

Janine says Nelsonians are mostly kind and some take the time to sit down and have a written conversation with her.

“The people walking by are not too bad, a couple of people have given me money and I’ve put it all to good use, I’ve gotten myself something to eat and I’ve bought tights, socks and gloves.”

Janine says she does get verbal abuse hurled her way but she ignores it.

“A lot of people will say something rude but if they can’t be bothered to write it down then I can’t hear them, so it doesn’t matter.”

And she is not alone, last week there were up to five others seeking shelter around notorious Nelsonian Lewis Stanton’s semi-permanent site.

Lewis says that while homelessness is not a new issue in Nelson, he has been seeing a rise.

“On Wednesday night, there were five other people out here with me, some are regulars but most come and go, it is sad that more people are living on the street but the sad thing is that we allowed this to happen.”

Mayor Rachel Reese says she has “deep concern” over the situation.

“This is having an impact on both retailers and the public in this area … Nelson people’s tolerance is being tested. People should not be in a situation where they are concerned about their safety. We are looking at all avenues to try and expedite our bylaw process to help resolve this situation in a legally binding manner.”

Salvation Army budgeting coordinator Mike Goodman says the solution to homelessness in Nelson will not be a quick one.

“The solution has to be a multi-pronged attack, providing more housing but also providing more help for people with addictions, people dealing with domestic violence, mental health issues, and budgeting.”