Access to Financial Services

By: Marg Archibald, Four Directions Financial Manager

Access to basic financial services – like a bank account or the ability to cash cheques – is something most of us take for granted. But many individuals don’t have easy and affordable access to these essential services.

In order to alleviate these challenges, Boyle Street Community Services has formed a partnership with ATB Financial to create a bank for the unbanked and the under-banked. We offer low-barrier financial services that allow our clients to access an unlimited transaction chequing account for just $9.95 a month.

Why does this matter?

Lack of financial services for inner-city communities mean that many low-income earners are forced to resort to cheque cashing companies that charge exorbitant fees just to access their money. These toxic relationships exploit an already marginalized population.

Lack of access to financial services also means that community members are forced to access all of their funds at once, increasing the danger of clients losing or having their money stolen.

Other clients are burdened by the (often physical) perils of relying on street lenders where failure to repay a debt can result in consequences much worse than a poor credit rating.

The path from poverty to economic self-reliance can be a lengthy struggle, but with the support of staff at Four Directions Financial clients are making lasting and meaningful changes in their financial situations.

The path begins with a basic first step – getting a bank account – through this comes learning how to save and invest, build credit, to pay off loans, and finally, owning assets. The road to true financial security is long but with the support of Four Directions Financial, it is now more than just a dream for those that are the most vulnerable in our community.

Hidden Talent at Boyle Street

By: Kaylee Cheladyn

Terry Prince has worked as a janitor throughout Edmonton in non-profit organizations for 14 years, with the last 5 of them spent here at Boyle Street Community Services. In addition to being a diligent employee, Terry is a self-taught artist who has painted multiple murals throughout the Boyle Street building and the neighbouring social enterprise Four Directions bank.


Terry has created art since he was an adolescent. As a teenager living in British Columbia, he would spend his summers sketching and drawing and selling his art to tourists at the beach. With no formal training — other than the occasional art class in high school — Terry taught himself how to paint by reading about artistic techniques and studying animal anatomy. “I spent a lot of time in the library,” he says, “I wanted to understand muscle tone and bone structure… I figured, ‘I can’t paint [animals] until I know what’s underneath it all’.”

Terry completed his first full-scale mural while working as a janitor for Operation Friendship in the mid-1990s. Gradually, he began contributing to the walls at Boyle Street, after his artistic talent was discovered by another staff member during a painting activity a few years ago.

Painting is purely a passion for Terry; “I quit for a few years,” he said, after he kept getting requests from friends and family members who wanted to commission his artwork, “I wasn’t looking to make money.”

Terry says that it takes him a few weeks on average to complete a large-scale mural. His latest piece, a mural featured in the Family and Youth Unit in the Boyle Street basement, illustrates his interpretation of an Indigenous folklore tale: a turtle swimming through the universe with the world on his back.


When asked about the origin story, Terry said that “[Indigenous peoples] knew the universe existed before the discovery of space… long before we decided that the Earth was round.” This legend has been passed down for generations in his family, “I first heard the legend from my grandfather, who probably heard it from his father, who heard it from his father.”

He spoke about the important role that art and creativity play in the lives of the community members at Boyle Street. “It takes their mind off what’s really inflicting them… gives them time to rest, time to clear their mind,” says Terry. He feels like his own art helps him do the same.

Terry’s right — studies have shown that art therapy is proven to serve as a coping strategy for those who have experienced trauma; people experience satisfaction at seeing their own visual representations of emotions, challenges, and strengths. Art can even be considered a kind of harm reduction, encouraging community members to find a healthy and creative outlet for their energy.

For his next mural, Terry looks forward to challenging himself with something new. “The hardest things to paint are waterfalls and fire,” he says, “they each have movement and many different colours.” His favourite scenes to paint are of nature; many of Terry’s pieces are inspired by the mountainous landscapes of British Columbia, as Terry says “they remind [him] of home.”

Street Ways

“Helpful tips for accessing resources (getting stuff).”

That is the goal of the newest inner-city community booklet called Street Ways, a joint project between 8 agencies (including Boyle Street Community Services), designed to help homeless individuals navigate Edmonton’s vast network of agencies, programs, and services while providing tips for living on the streets.

Street Ways is a unique approach to the dissemination of information to Edmonton’s homeless population. The booklet is written by folks that have experienced homelessness themselves with the goal of ensuring the language is clear, informative, and presented in a way that is accessible to individuals living rough.


Beyond the basics, (including a map of inner-city agencies in Edmonton) the booklet includes information on how to access specialized services, provides health information for those living rough, and provides tips for dealing with police, EMS, and other emergency services.

Hardcopy versions of the Street Ways booklets are available at Boyle Street in Streetworks.

Download a copy of Street Ways

Break Cycles. Buy Social.

A job is more than just a regular pay check.

A job means a supportive social network, an opportunity for personal growth and development, and some security in case of an emergency.

But perhaps most importantly, a job means a sense of self worth.

The community that we serve at Boyle Street Community Services face many barriers when attempting to break the cycle of homelessness.

We need to break down those barriers wherever they arise; and we need to continue to innovate and think about new ways of changing the status quo.

With that in mind, I want to introduce you to Boyle Street Ventures Inc., a social enterprise dedicated to ending cycles of poverty.

Social enterprises strive to address social problems through the sale of goods and/or services. They identify societal conditions that have caused marginalization to certain groups of people and make it their mission to challenge these market failures through innovative means of business.*

At Boyle Street, our focus is businesses where we can provide a high quality of service at competitive prices, all the while providing transformative employment opportunities for those who want to work but have too many barriers put in their way.

We partner our employees with a mentor, who also functions as a crew leader. They provide on-the-job support and training in many areas, including customer service, safe work practices and team work, to name a few. We equip our employees with training through our employment readiness program in courses as diverse as the customer service certificate, construction tickets, food handling course, etc.

And we pay a living wage, a key factor in escaping the cycle of poverty. The following two links provide more information on the significance of living wages.

End Poverty Edmonton makes livable income a priority

Edmonton Social Planning Council’s 2017 Living Wage Update

In short, we use our businesses to build the skills and confidence of our community members – and provide them a wage that supports a new standard of living.

Our businesses include:

o Commercial and residential moving
o Commercial and residential cleaning
o Junk removal
o Basic property maintenance – lawn care, litter and needle pick up, etc
o A food truck – you will see us around, or you can book us for a private function

Click here to listen to a recent CBC interview on one of our businesses, Downtown Proud!

The great thing about all of our businesses is that they are services you or your company spends money on already. By utilizing our services and “Buying Social,” you can participate in transforming the lives of many people without adding to your budget.

Please consider working with us. Send us your ideas and ask us for a quote at 780-909-2757 or
Let’s work together to break cycles of poverty and marginalization in our community.

1 Roger L. Martin and Sally Osberg, “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition,”
Stanford Social Innovation Review. Spring 2007.

Harm Reduction – Challenging Stigma and Giving a Voice

“Harm Reduction is a comprehensive, just and science-based approach to substance use…”

By: Marliss Taylor, Program Manager of  StreetWorks. 

Harm Reduction may be one of the most misunderstood terms in our current society. Some see it as condoning substance use or other “undesirable” behaviors. Some see it as a threat to a community. Some see it as only an activity that an individual or organizations do. Some see it as what you do when all else has failed.

In fact, Harm Reduction philosophy, strategy and activity does quite the opposite. It opens the door and welcomes people to become as safe and healthy as possible.

It is beyond a set of activities and programs but speaks to the approach, mindset, and attitude that strives to respect the Human Rights of individuals, consider people’s strengths, recognizes and addresses any barriers, and treats all people with respect and compassion.

Streetworks defines Harm Reduction as:

Harm Reduction is a comprehensive, just and science-based approach to substance use. The principles can also apply to activities such as sex work. It represents policies, strategies, and services, which aim to assist people who use legal and illegal psychoactive drugs to live safer and healthier lives.

All substances have both positive and negative effects, and substance use may affect one’s health and legal vulnerability. It is clear that most people who use substances do not experience problems, but in some circumstances, substance use can become dependent and/or chaotic. Harm Reduction recognizes that people use drugs for many reasons. Reduction of substance use and/or abstinence is not required in order to receive respect, compassion or services.

Harm Reduction enhances the ability of people who use substances to have increased control over their lives and their health, and allows them to take protective and proactive measures for themselves, their families and their communities.  

A manufactured war 

There are two main branches of Harm Reduction – Policy and practice.

The policy side challenges us to look critically at legal measures, national policies and social attitudes. In order to understand the drug war, we need to look at what happened in 1971. While the United States was in the midst of the unpopular Vietnam war.

In 2016, John Ehrlichman (senior counsel and Assistant to President Richard Nixon) was quoted as saying:

The Nixon White House had two enemies: the antiwar left and [the] blacks…We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war or being black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes…” 

“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did” (Dan Baum, Harper’s, April 2016)

Judicial discrimination 

There is no doubt that there is an unequal application of drug laws which systematically biases against people of colour and the poor. In the United States, for many years, people caught with crack were given a prison sentence that was 100 times more harsh that those that were caught with cocaine. This is a stunning difference in sentencing given that the only difference between cocaine and crack is the addition of baking soda.

Typically, cocaine was seen as the drug of the middle and upper classes – Hollywood’s drug – whereas the ‘street’ used crack. The law has since been modified but currently, the crack to cocaine prison sentence still remains at a 17:1 ratio.

Closer to home, we see that babies are routinely drug tested if their mother “appears” to have used substances, despite the fact that substance use spans all cultures, genders, and socioeconomic groups.

Mothers from more upscale parts of town are not routinely suspected of using substances and no testing occurs. A study in Sweden demonstrated that hospital staff were only correct 7% of the time when they were asked about which patients they thought had used drugs during their pregnancy.

War on Drugs misguided 

The drug war is 46 years old this year. Many people have grown up believing that this war is the only response to substances that is possible. However, most people would agree that the drug war isn’t working. The current world view is that illicit substance use is a problem and needs to be stopped.

In fact, substance use has been part of the normal human experience for millennia. Very often, people use the criminal law to define what is problematic or not. My glass of wine is a joy; there are wine-tasting clubs, stores on every corner, and wineries to visit. Most people could not imagine the same circumstance for heroin. Yet, alcohol was deemed the most harmful drug in the world in 2010 by The Scientific Committee on Drugs, led by Dr. David Nutt in the UK.

Close to home

In almost every case, the element that makes a substance unsafe is the fact that it is illegal, and is controlled by a black market that is focused on making the greatest amount of money in the shortest amount of time.

In Edmonton, the world changed at Boyle Street when oxycontin was arbitrarily removed from circulation on April 1, 2012. Within 2 weeks, heroin and fentanyl came screaming into town and the legacy can be seen in the unprecedented number of funerals for our community members.

The greatest risk currently is that the opioids available on the street are from unknown sources, and because it is illegal, there can be no regulations to make the substances safer. The only official response is “don’t do it”, which has not proven effective to date.

From both a policy and practice perspective, there are currently a number of Harm Reduction issues/activities that are relevant locally. These include supervised injection services, needle exchange, overdose prevention programming, managed alcohol programs, vaping, legalized cannabis and others. They are rooted in the desire to keep people safer and healthier.

There is some resistance from the broader community to continue or start these types of programs. The question for every one of these issues/activities should not be – should we do it? The question is actually – is it ethical not to do it?

Marliss Taylor is the Program Manager of the StreetWorks and has over 20 years of experience working in harm reduction.

Additional Resources: 

There are some very good videos that discuss perspectives on substance use and the drug war:

Johann Hari – Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong

Ethan Nadelmann – What Has the War on Drugs Done to the World? 

Dr. Carl Hart – Let’s Quit Abusing Drug Users

New “Brain on Drug Policy”