Boyle Street celebrates fundraising milestone for new facility but community opposition lingers

A concept for a new home for Boyle Street Community Services. A renovation is planned to turn the property on 107A Avenue into a new home for the agency. (Boyle Street Community Services - image credit)
A concept for a new home for Boyle Street Community Services. A renovation is planned to turn the property on 107A Avenue into a new home for the agency. (Boyle Street Community Services - image credit)

A social service agency dedicated to helping homeless Edmontonians is eager to start renovation work on its new facility in the McCauley neighbourhood, but some residents are pleading with the city's development appeal board to stop the project.

Boyle Street Community Services is planning to move its operations two blocks north from its current site to a renovated building at 10010 107A Ave.

The agency held a news conference this week to announce that it has raised more than 75 per cent of its $28.5-million fundraising goal for the new space, following recent donations of from Capital Power, the Stollery Charitable Foundation and The Brick. The project has not received any government funding.

The new facility has been given the Cree name of okimaw peyesew kamik, which translates to King Thunderbird Centre.

Boyle Street announced its relocation plans last December, prompting backlash from some residents, business owners and community groups who say McCauley is already at a tipping point due to a high concentration of social services.

'Part of the solution' 

Jordan Reiniger, Boyle Street's executive director, said the facility will help ease challenges in the neighbourhood, not aggravate them.

"This is going to be part of the solution," Reiniger said. "The facility we have, and the way that we operate in that facility, is going to change dramatically. And this will be a net benefit to the people that we serve.

"The people that we are able to talk to and have that conversation with, they can see where that benefit will be. And a great example of that is The Brick. We are literally moving right next door to them and they actually see that this a better thing for them in terms of the challenges they're facing."

The city's subdivision and development appeal board will hear an appeal against the development on Nov. 10.

Sixteen appellants have lined up in opposition to the project, including the Chinatown and Area Business Association and the Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton. The board will issue a decision on the appeal before the end of the month.

Despite the appeal, Boyle Street expects construction to remain on track. Renovations are expected to start next month. The new centre expected to open in October 2023.

Reiniger said Boyle Street will continue to work with neighbours to ensure any concerns are addressed.

"We have more support than not," he said. "Having a solution that's getting at the root causes of the challenges that people are facing there is actually going to be a net benefit, not only for the people that we serve but the community around us."

'Chinatown needs a break'

Wen Wong, executive director of the Chinatown and Area Business Association, said the relocation is of particular concern to residents and business owners in Chinatown.

McCauley is already home to a number of agencies — including the Bissell Centre and the Mustard Seed — that provide services to homeless people and those with mental health and addictions issues.

The move will bring the drop-in facility into the boundaries of the Chinatown, which is already contending with disorder, crime and high rates of homelessness, Wong said.

"Chinatown needs a break," Wong said. "We are afraid. We are afraid if that moves inside Chinatown, because many encampments are here already and those encampments are here year-round."

Wong said many business owners, frustrated with crime and safety concerns, have recently closed shop in Chinatown. He expects more will shutter if the relocation happens.

"We have nothing against social agencies but we believe there is a better way to manage social agencies," he said. "We have too many already."

Josee St-Onge/CBC
Josee St-Onge/CBC

Boyle Street's current facility functions as a community centre for people facing extreme poverty and homelessness.

Beyond the drop-in centre, clients can access housing specialists, counsellors, family services and medical care. The centre also provides street outreach services, mobile addictions treatment and mental-health outreach workers.

The new 2.5-acre property has a main building with 75,000 square feet of space, and an existing 38-unit apartment building where suites rent at below-market rates.

The new centre has an Indigenous-informed design and ceremonial space. A private courtyard would allow clients to gather inside the facility, instead of on the street outside.

The 107A Avenue site was purchased in a deal with the Oilers Entertainment Group, announced last year.

OEG paid $5 million for Boyle Street's existing day-shelter property at 10116 105th Ave., near Rogers Place.

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation donated a further $10 million toward the new centre's $28.5-million total cost. Boyle Street launched a campaign to raise the remaining $13.5 million needed to complete renovations.

Boyle Street Community Services
Boyle Street Community Services

During Tuesday's news conference, Boyle Street staff were joined by Elder Clifford Cardinal, who said the centre's Indigenous name had been created in a sweat-lodge ceremony.

Reiniger said constructing the facility is an act of reconciliation that will allow the agency to provide culturally appropriate services to its clients, about 80 per cent of whom identify as Indigenous.

The new site is a much-needed upgrade from Boyle Street's current home, a former banana-ripening warehouse, said Elliott Tanti, a spokesperson for the agency.

"It's got a significant, significant infrastructure deficit so our building floods regularly, five or six times in the last seven years," Tanti said.

"We've had issues with leakage from the ceilings and it's just not fit for [its] purpose and not conducive to us being successful anymore as an organization supporting people."

Tanti said the new facility will be better suited to providing the same services Boyle Street has offered for decades.

Some community opposition was anticipated, he said, but the agency remains confident the project will survive the development appeal.

"Boyle Street has existed for 51 years in the downtown and has been an active member of our community the entire time, so this isn't about a new facility or new buildings," Tanti said. "We already exist in these spaces."