Controversy Continues Over Boyle Street Community Services’ Planned Move to McCauley
Updated July 11, 2022: Boyle McCauley News initially reached out to City Councillor Anne Stevenson for comment, but she did not respond in time for the publication of the article. She has since responded and this has been incorporated.
On July 4th, a media release expressed ongoing safety concerns about the proposed move. Signed by numerous McCauley residents and representatives of local stakeholder groups such as the Chinatown BIA, Chinatown Transformation Collaborative Society, and the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada (Edmonton branch), the media statement emphasizes that the new location will put BSCS within one block of the Victoria School of the Arts, the city’s largest K to 12 school.
“While concentrating social services in one area of a city is not inherently a bad thing, the City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta have not put adequate systems in place to mitigate the social disorder that spills over from these sites into the surrounding community,” says Meagan Auer, a McCauley resident with a background in neighbourhood revitalization.
“Compared to the rest of Edmonton, McCauley residents shoulder a disproportionate amount of the social responsibility for those in need. From a community development perspective, this is not a suitable location for them. It does not reflect good urban planning for Edmonton’s downtown and opposes the City of Edmonton’s commitment to deconcentrate social services from McCauley within five years.”
The release also raises a lack of consultation between BSCS and McCauley residents and stakeholders. “Although BSCS has been seeking a new location for six years, Chinatown and McCauley community members were never consulted in the development of its plan to relocate to McCauley,” the release reads.
“The deal to purchase the new building was closed on October 30, 2021. It was a multi-million dollar deal with a major corporation and we were in the middle of negotiations, which necessitated we keep negotiations as private and confidential as possible,” said Elliot Tanti, a spokesperson for BSCS.
“As soon as those negotiations concluded we began engaging with the community as much as we could. From that moment on we began the process of building a notification plan contacting stakeholders. It was only the beginning. We knew once we made the announcement, we needed a strong plan to engage with these stakeholder groups.”
Tanti says there have been over 50 conversations with various resident community groups and stakeholders in the community, and they are still ongoing.
“What we’re talking about is a relocation of existing services,” says Tanti. “No additional services are being added to the site, which is only two blocks from the current site.”
However, according to Alice Kos, those two blocks make a huge difference. “They propose to move to the intersection of two business improvement areas in a site surrounded immediately, on all sides, by independent businesses. And less than one block from a K-12 school with nearly 2000 students. The concern is the impact it will have on BSCS’ immediate surroundings. Furthermore, while BSCS says it is not increasing the number of services it provides, its larger square footage will allow it to increase the number of individuals it serves,” says Kos.
Kos, a McCauley resident, is adamant that this is not a “McCauley vs. BSCS” issue. “Part of the reason I love McCauley is that it is compassionate, diverse, inclusive, and embraces vulnerable individuals as neighbours. I am not the least bit interested in demonizing vulnerable populations. And I would push back very strongly against anyone who would suggest that this is NIMBY behaviour on the part of McCauley community members. It would be fair to say that McCauley already has it all in its backyard. This is not about McCauley being NIMBY; this is about the vast majority of the other 300+ communities in the City being unwilling to host social services,” Kos says.
“Many businesses and residents are tolerant and accepting of the vulnerable population but are being cast as NIMBY. It is an unfair and unnecessary stigma for the Chinatown and McCauley community to bear in order to put food on the table and sell noodles in their stores.”
Hon Leong, Chair of the Chinatown Transformation Collaborative Society, says the move will negatively affect Chinatown, due to potential congestion on 107th Avenue northbound from 98th Street with jaywalkers accessing BSCS. He cites similar foot traffic issues along 105th Avenue beside the George Spady Centre and Herb Jamieson, and 106th Avenue by Hope Mission patrons, and is concerned the same will happen at 107th Avenue northbound from 98th Street.
“These are contentious issues that place the businesses and residents in media crossfire and directly into physical confrontations with social agencies, the houseless, and the City of Edmonton,” says Leong. “Many businesses and residents are tolerant and accepting of the vulnerable population but are being cast as NIMBY. It is an unfair and unnecessary stigma for the Chinatown and McCauley community to bear in order to put food on the table and sell noodles in their stores.”
Tanti says that these strong reactions from the community “demonstrate there is more work to be done. We knew from the beginning this would be an ongoing and iterative process, and we’re willing to engage in these kinds of process with any stakeholders.”
He adds: “Boyle Street has been part of the community for over 60 years, and will be part of this community for a long time. What we’ve tried to do with our engagement process in these conversations is to try to work together with communities for solutions. We want the same things as the community. We do not want open drug use, people sleeping in camps, or on sidewalks. We do not want unsafe and unhealthy communities. We are aligned with the community in regards to what they are looking for. This building provides the opportunity to be solutions-focused.”
City Councillor Anne Stevenson for Ward O-day’min believes the City has a role to play in addressing the concerns between McCauley stakeholders and the BSCS. “I believe the new BSCS location can be part of the solution to addressing the housing and mental health crisis we see playing out on the streets of our community,” she says. “At the same time, I fully appreciate the concerns the community has raised – these are valid issues that require a detailed response and mitigation. I’d like to see the City come to the table as a partner in the good neighbour agreement to ensure necessary services are in place, and to remove the burden of reporting from the community at large. I look forward to ongoing discussion and dialogue in the coming months to ensure this move can be a successful one for the whole community.”
However, Kos thinks the best solution is for the City and Province to assist in BSCS’ relocation outside of McCauley. “BSCS services are essential and important and valued. Our community values its partnerships with BSCS. And that’s why we feel strongly that BSCS must be supported by the City and Province to find an alternate location.”
To read the press release in its entirety, click here.