The Forgotten Feast – Indigenous and Global Health Research Group and The Flaman Foundation

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BoyleStreet-Banner-6-1280x415

Due to a generous donation from the Frank J. Flaman Foundation, on Friday, February 3, 2017 Boyle Street Community Services held the Forgotten Feast. This is an annual event for the community organization that provides a warm and hearty meal for Edmonton’s most vulnerable populations. Though Boyle Street Community Services is typically not able to host a meal service in the evening, in the early winter each year the agency holds a Forgotten Feast in partnership with the local business community. The name of the event originated from the decrease in donations the agency receives following the end of the holiday season. It is a time of year that is generally the coldest and when the fewest resources are available. The event has significant meaning to the clients, staff, and volunteers at Boyle Street Community Services. The Forgotten Feast provides an opportunity for not only a wholesome meal but also for the community to gather together in support and companionship.

This year, support from the Frank J. Flaman Foundation purchased all of the food for the feast, which included roast beef and many healthy vegetables. The event was facilitated by Boyle Street Community Services and the Indigenous and Global Health Research Group at the University of Alberta, who worked as volunteers during the event to aid in preparing and serving the nutritious and delicious meal. Dr. Sangita Sharma leads the group and is the Endowed Chair of Indigenous Health and a Centennial Professor in the Department of Medicine. She and the members of her team were glad to be able to participate and are very grateful for Flaman’s kind gift. The highlight of the dinner was the roast beef. As Sharma’s work has shown, beef is a very nutrient dense food that contains large amounts of vitamin B12, zinc, and iron and is a very cost-effective and culturally appropriate way of addressing nutritional inadequacies. As we know, many of the clients served by Boyle Street Community Services have limited access to healthy food sources and rely on inadequate nutrition options throughout most of the year. The beef provided at this meal, along with other nutrient-dense foods, was very well received.

Sharma and her team are thrilled to be partnering with Boyle Street Community Services to improve the health and wellness of vulnerable peoples in the community. She has recently received funding from the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation to work with Boyle Street and several other community organizations to identify what barriers exist for vulnerable peoples when accessing services and to examine opportunities to improve experiences and availability of services. The goal is to inform current programs and policies to directly meet the needs and priorities of the community. The dinner on Friday evening marked the beginning of this work, and Sharma and Boyle Street Community Services are very grateful to the Flaman Foundation for sponsoring the Forgotten Feast in 2017.

Executive Director Julian Daly Guest Editorial (Edmonton Journal)

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BoyleStreet-Banner-8-1280x415

I spoke out this week about Edmonton’s Homeless Count results to urge caution to the community in interpreting the numbers.

The results were initially presented as if the number of homeless identified in the count were an absolute, rather than a snapshot or trend — a figure that provides a glimpse but not the full picture — as is now being said.

Nothing would make me happier than to see a 24 per cent reduction in Edmonton’s homelessness but the figure simply does not reflect the reality of what we see and is evidenced on the front lines every day. Because of Boyle Street Community Services‘ day-to-day work and our involvement in the count, we are aware of areas of significant under-reporting, which calls the methodology of counting and the way we report results into question.

Our Street Outreach team, a team which is out in the river valley and parks every day, has worked with over 800 individuals sleeping outside this year alone, compared to the 30 people identified by the count. We saw a 43 per cent increase in camping in the river valley this year. The numbers of clients who use Boyle Street as a mailing address because they don’t have a fixed address and are likely homeless has gone up from 1,600 last year to 2,200 this year.
We know of many instances in which people are homeless but would not report themselves as such, individuals who knew the count was happening and avoided agencies on that day, or those who simply refused to answer personal questions asked by strangers. And who can blame them for that?

Our point is this: we know that there was significant under-reporting of people who are homeless, meaning the number of 1,752 is not an accurate total. The number is actually higher. How much higher? We don’t know. We don’t have accurate enough data to know.

We hope that the next time we count the homeless population in Edmonton that we can have a more robust, regular and comprehensive methodology and approach, giving us a more accurate picture.

A serious concern is that if these numbers are seen by policy-makers and the community at large as factual, they may be used as rationale for a decrease in resources and energy in the fight against homelessness. The broader community — a community which has been massively supportive of the efforts to end homelessness — might have breathed a sigh of relief and eased their focus and efforts. Those who are challenged by homelessness cannot afford this.

Our organization raising questions about the homeless figure has, in some quarters, been sadly and unfairly characterized as being anecdote-driven as well as not recognizing all the good work done by government and social agencies to end homelessness. Our concerns are driven primarily by hard evidence collected over a long period of time by our workers.

Yes, there was anecdotal evidence as well and we make no apology for that. Anecdotes are people’s observed evidence. Their truth. Their story. And consequently, shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.

Since stories about the most recent homeless count results came out, many Edmontonians have shared their anecdotes with us too. They are telling us that what we said is what they see.

I’ve also been at pains to highlight that thousands of people are currently housed in our city as a result of the amazing work and investment from government and agencies. Indeed, my colleagues at Boyle Street have been leaders in this work and I am proud that they’ve housed so many people over the years. Great work being done to end homelessness and rising homelessness aren’t mutually exclusive realities. The one doesn’t point to the failure of the other.

We all want to see an end to homelessness and the fight to end homelessness needs to continue. I just hope that the homeless count figures don’t lull us into a false sense of security that the battle is won or nearly won because it isn’t. Far from it.

#JustCall211 Campaign

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#JustCall211 Online Campaign 

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Just Call 211 and Press “3” when you see someone in physical or mental distress. By doing so you will dispatch the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team getting that individual the help that they need immediately.

The 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team is an integrated community response team that aims to help those in distress on the street in non-emergency situations. They work directly with the community member and ensure that each interaction with an individual in distress ends with a “warm handoff” by connecting the individual with the support that they need for the immediate crisis.

The 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team provide crisis intervention services when someone is:

  • Experiencing a medical or mental health (non-emergency) crisis
  • There is a potential safety concern for the individual involved
  • Possibly intoxicated, or otherwise impaired

Boyle Street Community Services is a partner in the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team along with:

  • Hope Mission
  • Canadian Mental Health Association
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Edmonton Police Service
  • REACH Edmonton

Volunteering at Boyle Street – the EFCL experience

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BoyleStreet-Banner-6-1280x415

All staff from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues recently spent a day in the Boyle Street drop-in, helping out and preparing and serving lunch.  This is a blog which one of the staff wrote about the experience:

What is your New Year’s resolution?

By BARB MARTOWSKI, EFCL Communications Director

When it comes to the festive season, most companies, associations, etc., celebrate with a staff party of some sort. These events are more than just parties – they are a Thank You for the hard work that’s been done throughout the year, they allow colleagues to bond in a relaxed setting and of course, to celebrate the season with those we spend a vast amount of time with. The EFCL office is no different, but we’re a small group and we wanted to do something different.

In 1917, Edmonton community leagues were born out of neighbours helping neighbours to build strong communities – a grass-roots, pioneering spirit that thrives to this day, so it wasn’t a big leap to decide that helping out would be our “party.” The big question was who would we help? Who would we lend our labour to?

Edmonton has an amazing number charities and community service organizations, many of which immediately come to mind thanks to great promotion and patronage, but there are others who are only now being able to promote their good works because of social media and the online world. Many of these run under the radar of most people, but they have been around for quite some time.

A decision made

We put two of our best colleagues on it, Joanne Booth and Bev Zubot, and tasked them with finding a suitable group that could accommodate us for a few hours sometime during the first couple of weeks of December. There were a few other guidelines, but it wasn’t easy to narrow down; there are so many groups that need help – and not always monetary help, though that’s always welcomed.

The choice was selected, the phone call made and on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 10, the EFCL staff descended on Boyle Street Community Services.

We were there to help make lunch and serve it, though when the EFCL staff has its collective sleeves rolled up, we’re ready to get whatever is needed done. On this particular morning, it included sorting through donated clothes as well as a few other odd jobs. Chef Jake said we were just too fast, but it wasn’t that we were fast, we were focused – and it’s amazing what can be accomplished with many hands.

Family time

As we chopped vegetables, cut bread and stripped the meat off a roasted turkey, the Boyle Street kitchen became the family kitchen, where stories were shared and good natured teasing and laughter abound. We never once forgot the reason why we were there, but it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better.

Boyle Street serves breakfast and lunch every day, and as Chef Jake told me, on fair weathered days, they could serve anywhere from 150 to 250 people. On cold days, that number rises dramatically to around 500. The meals are created from ingredients that are for the most part, donated. Yes, monetary donations allow them to buy the very basics, but whatever is created in the kitchen depends entirely on “what’s in the cupboard.”

So what would you do with a single roast turkey, a couple of bags of carrots, four packages of hamburger, maybe 10 potatoes and several boxes of pasta? Don’t forget, you’re about to have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 plus guests for lunch, so it has to stretch.

Making it all work

If you are Chef Jake, you make a hearty soup. And that’s what we did. No onions, no celery, no other vegetables other than the carrots and the few potatoes, but what saved the day were the four bags of demi-glaze that had been donated by the Edmonton Food Bank. See – nothing goes to waste amongst our charities. If one can’t use it, another one can and they share with each other as much as they are able.

Rich, thick and tasty, the soup fed a lot of people that day who would not see another meal until the next morning. As did the sandwiches that were made for the outreach truck. There are many folks who just can’t handle being around people for whatever reason or aren’t able to make it to the centre. Boyle Street does its best to find and feed these people as well.

From money to time

Our time spent at Boyle Street was really a gift to ourselves, but this type of gift should be given throughout the year. Boyle Street and similar groups, including animal shelters, depend on volunteers as much as they do on donations – much like community leagues.

In light of the current financial pressures facing our province and our country, the “tightening of our collective belts” will have a big impact on many charitable and non-profit groups. As much as many of us would hate to admit it, monetary donations are probably the first thing we cut back on in our personal budgets at times like this, but our labour only costs us our time. And it’s all ours to give freely.

Make your New Year’s pledge for 2015 to give your time and labour to a non-profit throughout the year – not just at Christmas. It will put a smile on your face and a glow in your heart – just as it did for us. More importantly, it will put a smile on the faces of those you help.

Moving Towards Great Inclusivity

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At the end of last summer, Boyle Street Community Services purchased the building it has occupied since 1995. Apart from the importance of this event to the 9,000 people we serve every year – the majority of whom are of aboriginal descent – the purchase is noteworthy because it puts Boyle Street across the road from the new downtown arena and entertainment district.

Can a busy social agency – and there are a number of them in the inner city – that serves some of the most marginalized of citizens live cheek by jowl with a spanking new arena that we are promised will lead to the resurrection of the downtown? Continue reading