Only a few blocks from campus, Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS) is set to close its doors at the end of the month and relocate. While Boyle Street operates in 15 different locations across Edmonton, their current downtown facility will relocate two blocks north to 107A Avenue and 101 St. Come October, temporary facilities located downtown will be open until BSCS’s permanent facility, the King Thunderbird Centre, finishes construction. While the King Thunderbird Centre isn’t set to open until fall 2024, temporary facilities will be in full swing to provide for those relying on the current downtown facility. A staff team will remain at the current downtown location for the first few weeks of October to help redirect people to the new facilities. Posters will also be displayed in addition to media updates and blog postings on BSCS’s website to communicate any updates.
With the change coming into effect as winter approaches, Elliott Tanti, director of communications and engagement for BSCS, ensures that they will still be fully operational. Tanti says: “Regardless, services will operate on October 1st and beyond in temporary locations until King Thunderbird’s open next year”.
BSCS’s decision to end its lease at the end of the month was something Tanti states they were aware of for a while. Aside from their current downtown building “literally crumbling,” other issues like flooding interfered with its sustainability. Due to the constant upkeep of the building, BSCS said in an official statement that it was “no longer financially viable” to remain at the current downtown location. Tanti went public about the closure to the media on Sept. 12, emphasizing BSCS’s commitment to continue service. “Our attention is to continue service delivery after [Sept.] 30th; it’ll just be in different locations.” In response to the change coming into effect alongside the colder weather, the city has funded community centres and churches to provide drop-in services during the winter.
“If MacEwan students and Edmontonians in general wanna support, it’s really about redirecting that narrative.”
— Elliott Tanti, director of communications and engagement for BSCS
In 2021, Boyle Street sold its downtown building to the Katz Group for five million dollars and received a 10 million dollar donation from the Oilers Community Foundation to move their facility two blocks North, kickstarting a capital campaign for the King Thunderbird Centre’s development. Initially, the development faced significant backlash and the project was appealed twice in response to its proximity to the Victoria School of the Arts. Many parents with students attending VSA expressed concerns about potential threats the relocation would pose. While these concerns are respected and acknowledged, Tanti stresses how these anxieties feed into the overall stigma surrounding their work.
BSCS has been working with the Edmonton Public School Board and Victoria School administration, parents, and students to partner on several different initiatives. Tanti states the involvement of Victoria students in the BCSC organization is an initiative that he is proud of and fully intends to keep in place moving forward. “Ultimately, our goal here is to find and build relationships and demystify both the work that we do and the people that we serve.”
“There’s enough stigmatization, so anything we can do to sort of quell those concerns, but also use this as a learning and teaching opportunity for everyone involved is crucial,” he says.
With the community bouncing back post-pandemic, Tanti has seen a rise of misconception surrounding Edmonton’s homeless community. “Challenges that emerged in the last 18 to 24 months include a real shift in narratives about the people that we serve… away from care and compassion and support, to narratives related to enforcement, and security, and additional policing resources,” says Tanti. “Edmonton is a courageous city and one that cares about its vulnerable, but the narrative has moved away from why this issue really exists.”
Edmonton’s homeless population has increased dramatically over the past year, raising major concerns regarding the community’s mental health. While crime rates have gone up, the root of the issue lies in what Tanti stresses is a “significant healthcare crisis.” It is essential to understand that while the majority of disturbances seem impulsive at face value, the root of the issue lies within serious trauma and the mental/physical healthcare crisis that has been going unaddressed in the downtown core. In tackling the stigma surrounding the homeless community, Tanti encourages a “compassionate approach.”
“If MacEwan students and Edmontonians in general wanna support, it’s really about redirecting that narrative,” Tanti says. Redirecting the narrative that these disturbances are not impulsive but rather stem from the vulnerability of untreated mental health issues is the first step in getting people the help they need. Changing the narrative as a community continues by centring the issue on mental health and approaching the downtown crisis as altruistically as possible.
Photo by Thai Sirikoone