top of page

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.