Renovation work on a building that will become the new home for an organization that works with impoverished and homeless Edmontonians is soon set to begin, but Boyle Street Community Services’ plan to move is being met with opposition from some people.
“Their current location is surrounded by vacant lots,” Alice Kos, a McCauley resident, told Global News on Monday. “Where they are proposing to move, they will be surrounded by children and independent businesses.
“To me, that makes a really big difference.”
Kos is among a number of people — including other McCauley residents, the chair of the Chinatown and Area Business Association and a representative of the Ukrainian National Federation in Edmonton — who signed their names to a news release raising concerns about Boyle Street’s plan to move to its new location in the fall of 2023. Kos and a number of other people who put their names on the news release are also parents of children who attend Victoria School of the Arts, which is just one block away from Boyle Street’s future home.
The news release, which was also sent to city councillors, notes that many of the people Boyle Street works with are grappling with mental illness, substance abuse issues and behaviour issues.
“BSCS provides essential services to vulnerable people,” the news release reads. “McCauley is renowned for its inclusiveness and compassion towards vulnerable individuals. But it is beyond McCauley’s capacity to host any additional social agencies.
“McCauley cannot accommodate Edmonton’s largest day shelter, particularly within one block of the city’s largest K to 12 school.”
Elliott Tanti, BSCS’ senior manager of communications and engagement, acknowledged that the news release “demonstrates there’s more work to be done with the community.”
“But ultimately… we all want the same things. We want safer, more inclusive communities,” he said. “We need to be working together to achieve those things.
“We do understand there’s some apprehension about the move.”
Tanti said BSCS had been searching for a new home because the organization’s current building is “falling apart.”
“It’s constantly flooding. It’s not fit for the work that we need to do. It’s inaccessbile for our folks.”
He noted the new facility is only “a couple of blocks away” from the current one and added it is important to note that the organization is not changing what it does and has experience doing.
“We’re simply relocating existing services,” Tanti said. “This isn’t about additional resources or additional services, this is about what we’re doing currently, just in a better way, in a more accessible, inclusive facility.
“I think that there’s a lot of factors impacting safety and security in downtown Edmonton right now. And it’s why we as a society, as a city, need to be solutions-focused — and why a facility like this new building for Boyle Street is the exact type of solution we need to address what are considerable concerns by the community.”
Critics of the facility’s relocation from near the Rogers Place arena to 10010-107 A Ave. also raised concerns about recent killings in Chinatown where the man accused in the deaths was dropped off in that area because of proximity to social services for people recently released from incarceration.
Critics of the move also said members of the McCauley and Chinatown communities were not properly consulted about the planned move and said they were only told about it a day before it was announced to the media.
BSCS said it plans to take part in ongoing community engagement on the initiative.
The critics of the move who penned the recent news release said they believe the new location will see too much of a concentration of resources for vulnerable Edmontonians in one community.
“All of Edmonton’s 375 neighbourhoods should be expected to demonstrate the same inclusiveness and compassion as McCauley,” the news release reads. “And BSCS must be supported by the city and province to find an alternative home.”
“The issue is we already experience issues on account of social disorder because of the concentration of services in this area,” Kos said. “Three weeks ago, a woman wielded a hatchet at my three-year-old daughter as my husband was walking her to pick up my son from school.
“I’ve been at the crosswalk with my son. (We) witnessed a man who was clearly in an altered state of mind… accosting students and screaming in their faces as they came from their bus stop to come to the school.”
Hon Leong, the chair of the Chinatown Transformation Collaborative, said the new location’s proximity to young students is one of his concerns, along with what he sees as the potential of the new BSCS location making Chinatown less accessible for people looking to shop and dine there.
“Chinatown relies on 101 Street, and specifically addresses of 105 Avenue and 106 Avenue and 107 Avenue to get into Chinatown,” he said. “So 105, there are currently some social services there, along 106 you have Hope Mission, and now on 107 we’re talking about having Boyle Street Community Services.
“You can see how these three main thoroughways to get into Chinatown will be clogged by some of the people that will be visiting these spaces.”
In December 2021, BSCS announced its plans to move after striking a deal with the Oilers Entertainment Group. OEG agreed to buy Boyle Street’s current property for $5 million while the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation would donate $10 million toward the $28.5-million cost of the new centre.
–With files from Sarah Komadina and Nicole Stillger, Global News