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Poverty, Homelessness and COVID-19: Boyle Street Community Services' Response to the Global Pandemic

Mental Health and Recreational Services Helping to Uplift Clients During Unprecedented Times

COVID-19 has a negative effect on everyone's mental health. Changes in our day-to-day lives, the push for people to stay home and to isolate if they are feeling unwell, the global nature of the pandemic, and a general sense of disconnect and uncertainty have a significant impact on the mental wellness of many; this is especially true for individuals experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. 

When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, agencies and governments worked together to open the Edmonton EXPO Centre as a day drop-in and isolation shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. A collective of inner-city agencies provided a variety of services including housing, meals, sleeping spaces, showers and laundry, and mental health services. Despite many unforeseeable challenges, our Mental Health team developed a model at the EXPO Centre which has reinvigorated the way they provide mental health services back at Boyle Street.

The Mental Wellness department at Boyle Street was previously tucked away in the basement of the Community Centre. Mo Amin, Manager of Mental Health and Recreational and Wellness Programming, says that it was a challenge for people to feel comfortable accessing services at Boyle Street when they needed help, due to the barriers of accessibility and privacy. He saw a great opportunity at the EXPO Centre because of the facility’s size and capacity. 

Mo Amin, Manager of Mental Health and Inner City Recreation and Wellness Program at Boyle Street

“When we got there, we set our table up directly in the middle of the room,” explains Amin. “Having an accessible mental health counsellor there was amazing. It was non-barrier and people could set up an appointment on the spot.”

Amin highlights how their referrals went through the roof while the EXPO Centre was open. Between March 28th and July 31st, when day drop-in services ended at EXPO, ICRWP (Inner City Recreation and Wellness Programming) provided daily programs at EXPO Centre. 938 individuals attended programming that focused on mental (49%), cultural (43%), and physical (7%) well-being. Around 20-25% of program participants were referred to other services such as housing, 24/7 access, counselling and treatment facilities.

Amin credits the success the program has seen to his hard-working and dedicated team. Mental Wellness teamed up with the Cultural Services Department, offered at Boyle Street to provide cultural supports and programming, to provide wellness programming to anyone accessing the EXPO Centre Drop-In. The programming offered positive ways for clients to take a break from the harsh realities of experiencing homelessness during a pandemic and allowed them to participate in engaging and stimulating activities. Clients could play Yahtzee, Bingo or Pictionary, paint or draw, or even engage in making indigenous cultural crafts, to name a few activities.

Access to mental health and recreational services are particularly important to help our clients through the immense challenges they face, especially now that an outbreak of COVID-19 has been declared in the inner-city community in Edmonton.

Now that his team is back at Boyle Street, Amin wants to continue to provide the same level of support to our clients that was established during their time at the EXPO Centre. With the flood that occurred in July 2020 in the basement below our Drop-In space, Amin and his team are no longer able to access their basement offices of the Community Centre. Instead, they have relocated next door to the Four Directions Financial Bank, where they are working out in the open. This way, clients are easily able to approach Mental Wellness staff and make appointments, much like they did at the EXPO Centre. 

At the end of the day, Amin credits his team for being so resilient throughout this challenging and ever-changing time.

“A huge shout out to my Mobile Outreach Addictions Team (MOAT), Inner City Mental Health, Urban Counseling and Inner-City Rec and Wellness teams!” exclaims a proud Amin.


"Poverty, Homelessness and COVID-19: Boyle Street Community Services' Response to the Global Pandemic" is a five-part blog series highlighting Boyle Street Community Services' response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including how we're providing services, how we're protecting ourselves and others, and how we're working hard to keep our community safe, and well-served.


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