Boyle Street Community Services is a supportive service organization that works to transition people out of chronic homelessness and, ultimately, to end chronic homelessness.
What does this look like?
The simple answer: it looks different for everyone, as everyone we serve has their own story, their own goals, their own talents, and their own obstacles. The 40+ programs across 17+ locations that we operate throughout the city work individually and together toward developing holistic resiliency.
We firmly advocate and practice Housing First and housing choice, but our work doesn’t end there. Social isolation remains a significant challenge faced by those we serve, and this can make it difficult to face the additional challenges that come from experiencing homelessness and poverty. This includes mental and physical health, as well as social health. Every one of our housing sites considers these factors.
For example, we opened a new, 47-unit permanent supportive housing program earlier this year: wâpanAcâhcahk (Cree for “Morningstar Home”), which offers a unique housing option blending:
the independence of your own apartment
the community that comes from shared culture, experiences, and common spaces
the support available through on-site Boyle Street staff
Residents at wâpanAcâhcahk live in fully furnished, modern apartments that are sustained through affordable rent. Accommodation is coupled with shared spaces (including a cultural room) where individuals can interact as part of a common community. This tangible sense of belonging is a critical support for people who otherwise experience chronic isolation from society. In this way, wâpanAcâhcahk is also a place where neighbours form important bonds through shared experience, proximity, and stability.
Through our ongoing partnership with Homeward Trust, Boyle Street Community Services has the agency to successfully operate this housing choice while offering tenants access to 24/7 support. Each resident is paired with a Boyle Street case worker who can help navigate the complex systems in health, employment, family services, and elsewhere that all people depend on to succeed. Other multidisciplinary team members include nurses, social workers, counselors, and an occupational therapist.
A foundational aspect of our holistic approach is working with people to build emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental wellness as Indigenous individuals. As of December 18, 2023, there are 3,043 Edmontonians experiencing homelessness – 56% of which are Indigenous. The intergenerational legacy and continuing reality of colonization means that Indigenous people are acutely overrepresented among Edmonton’s street-involved community. The unique barriers that Indigenous people experience also intersect with disabilities, gender inequities, poor mental and physical health indicators, and 2SLGBTQ+ identities that can require highly individualized support.
Our practice is founded on culture, including breaking down ways imposed through colonization and rebuilding processes anew. This work takes many forms engaging community members in ceremony, language, medicine, and land-based ways of knowing.
In an effort to formalize our partnership with Indigenous peoples, our practice is now informed by a 15-person Elders Council. These efforts are supplemented by direct engagement with regional Indigenous leadership, and wisdom gathering sessions with community members, staff, and stakeholders.
Boyle Street Community Services has also begun an agency-wide “Circle Practice”, empowering 37 staff to animate sharing spaces rooted in Indigeneity. These social venues for celebration, community, and grieving carry particular weight at this time - an essential resource in the face of concurrent mental health, opioid, and pandemic crises. The participatory nature of our cultural programming means that skills are learned through physical activity, storytelling, artistic engagement, and connection to living things and our shared earth. What bonds these efforts is a shared commitment to support every person’s journey to a sense of holistic resiliency.
As Indigenous people, this journey often takes the form of a greater spiritual connection to culture and identity. Boyle Street offers opportunities for outings to the land that are missing from inner city life and facilitates artistic and cultural expression, often sparking memories of family that lead to poignant storytelling. This work sparks meaningful conversations about self-worth and belonging — developing what Boyle Street Community Services calls emotional resiliency.
WâpanAcâhcahk, our 15-person Elders Council, an agency-wide “Circle Practice” - these are all relatively recent additions to our programs, services, and practices. We are always adapting, always innovating, always learning, here are a few more examples:
Assisted by our wonderful community partners, we’ve opened eight winter warming locations across the city – another concrete way of meeting people where they are at.
We launched our new interdisciplinary model of care to create significantly better outcomes for those accessing our supports. This was the direct result of engagement with those we serve, listening to them and working to address their expressed needs.
We came together with our partners – Radius Health and Healing, Alberta Health Services, the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Food Bank, the nurses at Streetworks, Hiregood staff, and more – to battle a Shigella outbreak. The efforts to address this immediate outbreak continue and they have sparked good conversations about the conditions that led to the outbreak and how to prevent and respond in the future.
We're filled with gratitude for the unwavering support, collaboration, and dedication that have driven our efforts. The strides we've made in building a stronger, more inclusive community are a collective achievement, and as we step into the new year, we remain committed to building holistic resiliency and our mission of ending chronic homelessness.