Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS) has released a temporary plan to continue offering supports to Edmonton’s vulnerable community while itself is without a permanent home for the next year and a half.
Boyle Street, which provides services to people facing poverty and homelessness in Edmonton, currently operates out of a building on 105 Avenue beside Rogers Place.
Come Tuesday, Oct. 3, all services and staff operations will resume in five different spots, although the majority of the organization’s programs will shift to operate out of the Bissell Centre East, a couple blocks away at 105 Avenue and 96 Street.
The organization has outgrown its current dilapidated space and already had a long-term plan to move into okimaw peyesew kamik — in English, the Cree name translates to King Thunderbird Centre — a few blocks north near 107A Avenue and 101 Street.
However, opposition from the surrounding community pushed back the timeline for that move.
Earlier this month, Boyle Street announced it was ending its lease agreement with the Katz Group — which was up for renewal — and needed to move out of its current location in downtown Edmonton by Sept. 30.
However, King Thunderbird needs renovations before it can be moved into and that construction has yet to begin, leaving the social services provider looking elsewhere to host its services for the next 18 months, or until the new centre is ready.
On Monday, BSCS said it has secured additional spaces in five different spots across the core to ensure service delivery will continue, and will allow the organization to also expedite service delivery changes initially planned to be offered at the King Thunderbird Centre.
“Our folks are here, our communities here, our services have been here and will continue to be here,” explained Elliott Tanti, director of communications and engagement at Boyle Street.
“It’s critical for us to be where people need us most, and that’s in Edmonton’s downtown core.”
Almost all of the city’s social service agencies that serve the city’s homeless and vulnerable populations are in the city’s core, north of downtown.
Boyle Street Community Services will cease offering programming at its current spot behind Rogers Place by the end of the day on Friday, Sept. 29, and will be closed over the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation long weekend.
The temporary Bissell location will offer Boyle Street Triage programs and services, including intake, reception, housing intake, youth services, immediate needs, identification and mail.
“They will ensure that most individuals accessing Boyle Street Community Services downtown — that’s about 150 to 200 a day or over 7,000 a year — will continue to receive services both where and in a way that they are used to,” Tanti said.
“It’s a seamless transition for us working with a community partner that knows our community, so that will ensure that there’s not as much turmoil as there could have been had we divided services up more.”
The Bissell Centre provides services out of its two buildings on the east and west side of 96 Street, including a drop-in centre, but Tanti said Boyle’s focus won’t be on providing a warming centre — rather, a brief stop for a specific service.
“Generally, people coming in for one quick thing and then leaving. It’s not a place for people to go and hang out,” Tanti said. “They’re acting actively working towards… whether it’s get their ID, pick up their mail, it’s part of their daily routine.”
Tanti said, for example, the current location provides an address for more than 3,000 people who come by to get their mail.
Meanwhile, two programs that help the homeless get jobs and open a bank account will move to operate out of portables on the King Thunderbird Centre property (10010-107A Ave.)
Hiregood helps youth, adults, and seniors who are clients of Boyle Street find employment, such as doing litter pickup, needle disposal, junk removal, pressure washing, event grounds keeping and attending to public washrooms. Four Directions Financial is an ATB agency that helps people who are homeless or living in poverty open a bank account with a mainstream financial institution.
At a third location, two community spaces and cultural services/IRS programs will be operating out of the Mercer Building at the corner of 104 Street and 104 Avenue.
Tanti said those services support 30 to 40 people a day: a community based cohort program that fosters healthy peer support as clients engage in recreational and cultural activities together.
“These spaces are designed for individuals actively working toward stability,” he said of the culture programming being offered by Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers at the Mercer building.
“It’s very different — what we’re definitely saying is we’re not moving that building to Mercer,” Tanti said while gesturing to the Boyle Street Community Services building.
The fourth location will be a smaller community space to support about 20 people a day at Co-lab (near 96 Street and 102A Avenue) as part of a partnership between Quarters Arts and Boyle Street.
The Streetworks harm-reduction and needle exchange will operate in an outreach capacity.
The fifth location Boyle staff will be moving to: space for administrative work provided by Qualico. In total, about 150 to 200 staff will start working in new locations come Oct. 3.
Staff will also be stationed in front of and around the old Boyle Street location come Oct. 1 to further communicate the changes.
Part of the reason it took two weeks to reveal where everything would be moving was to ensure Boyle Street didn’t have to go far, Tanti said.
“Frankly, it was because the city worked so hard and so diligently and realized that this was an emergency, that we were able to get this set up as quickly as possible,” he said.
When Boyle Street began working on plans to move to the King Thunderbird Centre, there was opposition from people in that area. Tanti said in this case, all of the buildings the organization is moving to are properly zoned for the services being providing out of those locations.
“That being said, this is the downtown core and it’s shared by a number of people,” Tanti said.
“So we’re committed as an organization to actively working with neighbours and partners to ensure they’re fully aware of what’s happening at these locations.”
King Thunderbird will be the new headquarters for BSCS employees and will deliver services to people living downtown but will not be a shelter, according to the agency.
The purpose-built facility is meant to ensure the basic needs of Edmonton’s most vulnerable population are met.
BSCS bought the property at 107A Avenue and 101 Street in 2021 with a $10-million gift from the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.
If there are delays in the opening, which slated for the end of 2024, Tanti said Boyle Street has good relationships to ensure the services will continue in their temporary locations until everything can come together under one roof.
“One of the things that’s great about these new locations is all of them are accessible, which has been a major barrier for this location. One of the reasons why we needed to leave,” Tanti said.
While the majority of the services Boyle Street offers are Monday to Friday, 24/7 services like the crisis diversion team will began working out of their new space on Oct. 1.
Through its various programs, BSCS serves more than 12,000 people across Edmonton.
The Alberta government said it will be paying Boyle Street’s moving expenses.
“We have been in active conversations with Boyle Street and they ensure us services will not be interrupted,” a statement Tuesday from the Ministry of Seniors, Community and Social Services said.
“Seniors Community and Social Services provides $317,000 to Boyle Street Community Services through Homeward Trust to operate the facility. Minister Nixon has announced over 1,727 shelters spaces in Edmonton to make sure everyone has a warm place to go this winter.”