What does Boyle Street do? What is our purpose? The brief answer to these questions is contained in our mission statement: to end chronic homelessness in Edmonton.
But, while stated simply, this is a complex mission, because chronic homelessness is a complex problem. Boyle Street does not operate as a shelter or a soup kitchen. We are a supportive service organization that works to transition people out of chronic homelessness and, ultimately, to end chronic homelessness.
Exterior of the Boyle Street Community Centre
Chronic homelessness is defined as people who experience homelessness on an on-going basis, usually for a period of at least six months, to the point where it is entrenched. There are typically multiple factors leading to someone experiencing chronic homelessness: a history of trauma and/or abuse; struggles with mental illness and/or addictions; physical health issues; lack of community and/or family support; and more.
A large part of our work is directed at transitioning people toward permanent housing. But staying permanently housed requires a system of support that many people who have not experienced chronic homelessness may take for granted. We are focused on eliminating the conditions that lead to chronic homelessness and establishing the systems necessary to move people out of it.
We focus on two distinct, inter-related service lines and advocacy streams: prevention and intervention. Prevention addresses aspects we know are leading causes of chronic homelessness and ends them before they begin. Intervention supports those already caught in chronic homelessness and helps them to move beyond it.
Our work in both these areas is led by the knowledge and strength of the people we serve and is empowered by data. We ensure those we work with are determining their own path - our role is to walk alongside, provide support, and continually offer opportunity and choice. We use data and research to reflect, refine, and improve our work, and to make better, quicker organizational decisions. Overall, our programs and services attempt to work together to build holistic resiliency - support that looks at the whole person, not just one aspect of their needs.
For example, our Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) has a straightforward goal: to enable participants to reduce and eliminate their non-beverage alcohol consumption by providing safe, consistent, and non-judgmental support. But MAP is successful because it is peer led and peer run and it is connected to our health programs, housing programs, and more. Its participants work alongside the staff to envision and operate the program. Like the rest of Boyle Street’s programs, MAP understands that its stated goal - helping participants manage their consumption of non-beverage alcohol - is only possible through holistic support that takes into consideration physical, emotional, social, and spiritual wellbeing.
Our Group Living program, community centre, mental wellness program, ID Services - all of these and more are intricately connected to form a network of support for our community. They are underlined by our cultural supports, which ensure that every program considers both the individual and group needs of its participants.
In Edmonton, there are approximately 2,769 people experiencing homelessness. Proportionally, 57% of Edmonton’s homeless population is Indigenous, even though Indigenous people make up only 5% of Edmonton’s overall population. Due to the make-up of those we serve, we place particular focus on making our services and spaces inclusive to First Nation, Métis and Inuit people. However, we encourage each site and team to provide additional supports based on the diverse cultures and groups they serve.
Our approach acknowledges that chronic homelessness is a complex issue that is the result of multiple, overlapping systemic failures. Chronic homelessness is a societal condition, not an individual failure. Because our work focuses on both prevention and intervention, it addresses both the causes and effects of that condition.
In order to create true, systemic change, we have formed key working partnerships with large systems such as Alberta Health Services, Edmonton Police Service, and all levels of government. We work to deepen partnerships with other organizations with similar missions. This helps us advocate more effectively in areas of public policy and allows us to share knowledge as well as best practices, gained both through research and direct experience.
We also relentlessly raise awareness of chronic homelessness as a societal condition. This is ultimately a message of hope, because systems can be changed, which is necessary to overcome the pessimism that prevents change. We believe that our mission is possible, that we can complete our work, and that our work will be complete when Edmonton permanently ends chronic homelessness.
This means that everyone we work with has a safe place to call home. Everyone we work with feels connected to family and community. Everyone we work with is building holistic resiliency. Everyone we work with feels a sense of purpose and meaning in their life. Everyone we work with needs us less and less over time.
This means a city - a society - composed of robust systems of support. A society where reconciliation is taken seriously. A society where addiction is treated with compassion and without stigma. A society where housing is available to everyone.
We believe this is possible, because we believe in the people of Edmonton and we believe in the people we serve. Their incredible resiliency and compassion make it clear that, together, we can overcome the challenges that create chronic homelessness and fulfill our mission to end it in Edmonton.