Boyle Street move improves integration, inclusivity

· The Pulse

Moves can be emotional and that includes when a social services organization vacates a building it occupied for 27 years, Elliott Tanti of Boyle Street Community Services told Taproot.

Before the organization left its former building just north of Rogers Place on Sept. 30, community members and outreach workers gathered for a round dance.

"We tried to bring some closure to that facility in a meaningful and spiritually informed way," Tanti said. "For many of these people, this was their home, this was the place that they felt safest in, it's where their family and their community was. There was a lot of history in that building — positive and negative."

It's been nearly four months since Boyle Street Community Services left the building. In that time, services that once ran out of the former building now operate from eight smaller spaces, through partnership with churches and other institutions.

"The idea is, rather than having one big drop-in space like we've traditionally had, what we wanted to do is do smaller micro drop-ins across the city," Tanti said.

And the results are positive, Tanti added. Partnerships with organizations have suggested where duplication might be reduced to improve services, and a few new buildings have even boosted inclusivity.

For example, BSCS moved its triage programs to a Bissell Centre building at 10527 96 Street NW. These programs are where clients can meet a housing or youth services worker, or pick up mail, a bus pass, or pet food.

There's overlap between the people Bissell and Boyle serve, so the Bissell Centre building has "slowly become a one-stop shop for folks," Tanti said.

The two agencies are contemplating how they might be more efficient in serving the community.

"The best example I would use is we have a mail service and so does Bissell, so we've been working with them actively and talking with them about how we might better integrate those services," Tanti said. "One of the greatest barriers in our work is having to send people from place, to place, to place … so anytime that we can be more collaborative in our service delivery approach — ask people to recite their stories and their traumas less often — the easier it is for us to connect people to services."

The future site of King Thunderbird Centre, or okimaw peyesew kamik, at 100 Street and 107A Avenue.

Boyle Street Community Services is set to move into okimaw peyesew kamik, or the King Thunderbird Centre, on this lot at 100 Street and 107A Avenue by early 2025.

For BSCS, getting to this point has been a marathon.

As Sept. 30 loomed, Boyle Street Community Services said its agreement with the Oilers Entertainment Group, which owns the property, was no longer financially viable. Since its new building, okimaw peyesew kamik or King Thunderbird Centre, is not ready for occupation, the services BSCS offers had to be relocated.

Tanti said feverish work from staff in the weeks leading up to the move made the transition go well.

"We had staff around the (former) building and we created extensive maps for the community to let them know where they can get services," he said. "Off the start, I think there was a little bit of misinformation. People felt like we were closing for good or they wouldn't have a place to go. So we had to do a lot of work in those early days, both in the lead-up to us actually closing and immediately after, to make sure that we were getting the best information out to people."

Then "cheque day" — when government benefits are deposited into bank accounts — came just days after the big move. It's one of the busiest days of the month for Boyle. Tanti said he was heartened to see a massive line in front of the new location for the organization's Four Directions Financial, which now runs out of a trailer on the future site of King Thunderbird Centre.

"So, we have done a good job of getting the word out to (the) community in that space," he said. "Things did start to settle relatively quickly, all things considered."

The transition went smoothly for the most part, but Tanti said transitioning those registered in Boyle's den-based model of interdisciplinary care, which now operates out of Work Nicer's outpost in the Mercer Warehouse, was a challenge.

"Because of the nature of the population that we work with and how they exist in society, they can be kind of somewhat difficult to track down, so there was a little bit of delay in that," he said.

Street outreach workers helped locate the people and the treatment was back on track, he added.

The Mercer building exemplifies inclusivity, Tanti said.

"You've got these two kind of fancy, posh restaurants in the basement, this startup culture and community on the second floor, and then a social service agency on the third floor," he said. "It's really what inclusive community and inclusive spaces look like."

Tanti said there is no link between the increased attention to homeless encampments and the closure of the Boyle building in September.

"Encampments were an ongoing conversation and a challenge in our community even before we left our old building," he said. "I think it's very difficult to correlate the shift in our services to that, particularly because we've actually increased drop-in space across the city with these new facilities in the fall, yet encampment continues to be something that's very visible and a problem in our community."

The real cause is the ongoing effects of COVID-19 and the challenging economic times on a vulnerable population, he said.

Crews started construction on King Thunderbird Centre in December. Tanti said he is confident the space will be ready by late 2024 or early 2025.

The facility remains about 80% funded; BSCS is calling on all levels of government to contribute as it hasn't received public funding at this point.

BSCS will also go appear before the Edmonton Subdivision and Appeal Board later this month in hopes to get a permit for an overdose prevention site in Ritchie.