YMCA to close downtown Edmonton housing facility, displacing 120 residents

Edmonton’s YMCA closing its downtown residence
WATCH ABOVE: It’s over a century old- but the downtown YMCA is no longer viable and residents must now look for other accommodations. Shallima Maharaj reports.

About 120 residents will have a year to find new housing after the YMCA of Northern Alberta announced it is permanently closing its downtown Edmonton housing facility.

After a two-year review of the YMCA’s downtown programs, the president and CEO of YMCA of Northern Alberta said the facility will be shut down by Oct. 31, 2017. Nick Parkinson said the decision to close was not taken lightly.

“We’ve made a very tough decision,” Parkinson said Friday. “The building is at end of life.”

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Parkinson said the facility operated at annual loss of $100,000 to $150,000 and projected to increase.

The housing facility on 100 Street and 102A Avenue opened in the 1950s as a youth hostel, mainly for travellers. Over the years, the needs of the population the YMCA serves have changed but the facility hasn’t. Because the facility supports people who stay long-term, the single-room occupancy model it currently runs is no longer viable for residents.

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“The rooms that we have right now are eight by 10 (foot) rooms,” Parkinson explained. “There’s no washroom in them, there’s no kitchen facilities in them. There’s a bed and a dresser, essentially.”

“Could we actually renovate the building to add more of those rooms to create a viable operating model? We’ve worked with architects over the past two years, and unfortunately, we couldn’t create enough units to create a viable operating model… We currently are running at an operating deficit and that is projected to get worse.”

Residents were notified Friday of the closure. Marc April has lived at the YMCA downtown on and off for 20 years. While he knew the old building would have to close down eventually, he said he was shocked to learn the organization wasn’t going to build a new facility. He said he’s going to miss the sense of community.

“I’ve gravitated to the community here,” he said. “People come from different walks of life and hearing their stories and talking about yours and everything else, it’s always been a great thing to come be in here. Even if you leave, you always somehow come back.

“No matter what, you can always come back and it feels like home. I mean, I don’t have a whole lot but it’s still my home.”

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April is working towards getting his Class 3 driver’s licence in hopes of getting a job driving somewhere. At this point, he’s not sure where he’ll go once the housing facility closes.

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“I am going to miss places like this that have this community. I don’t know where else to find it,” he said. “It’s really going to be a sad day when it closes down.”

Parkinson said the YMCA will sit down with every resident in order to provide the support they need to find new housing.

“The Y is not closing out. We’re committed to working with this population and helping people find permanency and supporting them through that transition,” he said.

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“What’s really important is, we’re not closing in a month and we’re not closing in two. We’re closing in 365 days. And that’s been very purposeful because as an organization that’s committed to people, we want to make sure that we rehouse people.”

The YMCA of Northern Alberta has an affordable housing facility east of downtown Edmonton. It also provides housing in Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray.