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Edmonton ends temporary gap funding for Bissell Centre, Boyle Street Community Services

Two non-profit organizations operating day shelters for unhoused people in Edmonton will lose the temporary gap funding they’ve been receiving from the city.

Councillors voted during a private council meeting last week not to renew the temporary relief it had been providing to the Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services since 2021.

The funding aimed to keep spaces open for vulnerable Edmontonians to have a place to shower, eat meals, do laundry and connect with other resources like social workers and nurses.

Both organizations, which work to support unhoused populations across Edmonton, had been using the money to operate day shelters with extended hours in the winter to provide a place to stay for those experiencing homelessness.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi confirmed the decision in a Wednesday phone interview with CBC News.

“We have stepped in to fill that gap, but our capacity to continue to do that is constrained,” he said, adding that the funding was always meant to be temporary.

A man with grey hair and a moustache stands indoors wearing a blue suit with a poppy on the lapel.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi speaks to media at city hall on Nov. 7, 2023. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

While he said the Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services provide “phenomenal” services, the city can no longer afford to extend that funding. Sohi said the city plans to advocate for provincial and federal support for homelessness programming.

“I’m a strong advocate for both organizations … it is just the reality that we are facing of the interim emergency support that we were able to provide,” he said.

“It is only on an interim basis; it cannot be for long term.”

It leaves staff from both organizations questioning their next move.

Elliott Tanti, communications director for Boyle Street Community Services, told CBC News the announcement doesn’t impact the organization’s core programming.

Boyle Street has received extra funding over the last 10 years to provide extended hours of service in the winter.

The additional money, he said, typically comes from the city or Homeward Trust.

“It wouldn’t be [an extension of] all of our core programming, it would just basically extend our hours longer so that people had more of a place to go,” Tanti said.

A man in a blazer and wearing a lanyard speaks to reporters.
Elliott Tanti, communications director for Boyle Street Community Services, said the announcement doesn’t impact the organization’s core programming. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

As the organization prepares to open its new King Thunderbird Centre at 107A Avenue and 101st Street, staff have also been talking with city officials about creating more locations across Edmonton — rather than one centralized location — to support homeless people effectively.

Council passed a resolution last year to allow Boyle Street to open eight micro drop-in spaces instead of the winter emergency response funding they would have received from October to May.

Tanti said the organization knew the contract was only until May 15, but the next steps remain unclear. He said Boyle Street isn’t considering going before council at this time.

“We have been cautious with our expenses around this program and we do have money still available,” he said.

“And we’re exploring the idea of, at least, operating some of them beyond May 15 with those funds.”

Tanti said Boyle Street has received $1.7 million in emergency winter funding from the city since 2021.

The interruption in funding, however, could spell trouble for the Bissell Centre, according to chief executive officer Gary St. Amand.

He told CBC News Bissell Centre received more than $16 million from the city since the gap funding began in 2021.

A man looks into a webcam during a video interview.
Gary St. Amand, CEO of the Bissell Centre, said over 7,000 people came through the Bissell Centre’s doors in 2023. (Aaron Sousa/CBC)

The organization’s main community space on 96th Street has received increased funds to support the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on people entering homelessness and poverty by offering extended daytime hours.

St. Amand said over 7,000 people came through the Bissell Centre’s doors in 2023, receiving support such as showers, hot meals, clothing, and other basic needs.

“After this funding is withdrawn, we won’t be able to have those doors open like that,” he said.

Essentially, as we’re able to get volunteers or have donations, we will have the opportunity to provide some limited access to specific services, but that opportunity to come in and warm up … won’t be available beyond the end of April.”

The city has provided Bissell Centre with some funding through the end of December to pay for the facility costs of the main community space, St. Amand said, but adds that staff will need to start crunching numbers regarding how much support can be provided through donor funding.

He said Bissell could have extended hours through winter and reduced hours through the summer, costing just over $4 million. Providing services all day, whether winter or summer, would cost about $5.1 million.

“At the end of the day, what we want to see is people being able to be stable and connected in the community,” he said.

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