Thank you TELUS

March 24, 2021

Tipinawaw, which means “sheltered from the outside elements” in Cree, is the apt name for a shelter currently operating at the Edmonton Convention Centre. During the pandemic, Tipinawaw has provided housing, meals, and resources to keep vulnerable Edmontonians safe and supported. The shelter is a collective effort, bringing together the skills and resources of Boyle Street Community Services, Bissell Centre, Mustard Seed, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, the City of Edmonton, and the Edmonton Convention Centre, who are each involved with operations of the emergency accommodation.

Hundreds of team members from these organizations have come together in the last year to serve over 90,000 meals, provide access to shower and laundry services, facilitate cultural support, and even assist in helping more than 150 individuals find a path to long-term housing.

Recently, TELUS stepped in with a donation to provide free Wi-Fi throughout the facility, allowing staff to better facilitate programming and operations. TELUS also provided Optik TV in a central space so people can keep up with the news or even have the chance to relax and catch a hockey game.

TELUS thanks the partners contributing to Tipinawaw for betting our community in Edmonton, we are proud and humbled for the opportunity to help such a vital resource in these particularly trying times.

Extension of Tipinawâw

March 4, 2021

City Council has approved the extension of operations at Tipinawâw until April 30, 2021.

The initial target closing date of Tipinawâw was March 31, 2021. The City of Edmonton and community agencies have been exploring options for individuals transitioning out of Tipinawâw once services are discontinued. This extension will allow sufficient time to prepare these options and to ensure a successful exit from the Edmonton Convention Centre.

From shelter to market housing: Ben’s Story

By Jasmine Salazar, February 19

Ben did what lots of young people do with their hard-earned money: spend it.

He liked hanging out with his friends and going out on the weekends. He had a steady job, working at a moving company, and he had his own apartment.

Unfortunately, some bad decision-making and reckless spending habits led him into a path of homelessness.

“It was a series of making poor choices for a long period of time. I was bad at money management,” said Ben. “It took me a long time to get out of that.”

As a result of those choices, Ben experienced homelessness off and on over the course of three years, sleeping in temporary overnight shelters between Edmonton and Calgary.

Ben’s struggle with money management and budgeting is not unheard of, especially among young people. Most people have experienced a time in their life where they have spent their money on a new car or clothes instead of saving it. According to a 2019 survey from Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 51 per cent of Canadians reported that they do not have a budget. The same study reported that 1 in 6 Canadians say their monthly spending exceeds their income.

What’s more, not everyone has access to financial advice or education that could help them better manage their day-to-day finances and bill payments. This can result in tragic consequences if not properly managed, as in the case with Ben.

Some people may be fortunate to go to parents or friends for help should things get bad financially. But this is not always possible especially if the parents or friends are not financially stable themselves. 53 per cent of Canadians are living paycheque to paycheque (BDO Canada Affordability Index 2019) and are unable to save for unexpected emergencies, let alone lend it out to others.

“I didn’t have any friends that were in a position to help me and give me shelter, and neither were my parents, so I went to the streets,” said Ben.

Ben left Edmonton for a bit to try out Calgary where he managed to land a seasonal job.

He was living with an ex-girlfriend at her parent’s home and the income from his seasonal job went to paying their rent, bills and groceries.

“Now, I’m broke. We break up, and I’m back at square one,” revealed Ben.

Ben returned to Edmonton. He managed to find some work but admitted that it was difficult to maintain it.

“There are a lot of x-factors that cause road bumps for you that people don’t typically consider like taking a shower, having a new set of clothes to wear or reliable transportation,” he said.

Without access to these things, maintaining a job, letting alone finding a job, is just another added obstacle to the existing challenges of living on the streets.

“When you’re on the streets, your time is spent on trying to survive,” he said. “Most of my days were spent lining up for food or shelter.”

The difference: The path out of homelessness

The onset of COVID-19 resulted in a centralization of essential services for people experiencing homelessness at Tipinawâw, a 24/7 accommodation space in the Edmonton Convention Centre (ECC) that opened in late October 2020.

While at Tipinawâw, Ben decided to check out the on-site housing services. Community members  are fully supported on their path toward stable housing through the assistance of the city’s Housing First partners. Staff collect personal information, current living situation, how long they’ve been without a stable home, their short-term and long-term needs and other relevant details. This information is entered into a By Name List, which is a list, by name, of everyone in Edmonton who is experiencing homelessness and sought out housing services.

The premise of Housing First is simple: it provides immediate access to housing with no preconditions and then connects people with the supports they need to stabilize and retain their housing.

Prior to that, Ben hadn’t considered connecting with housing services because he didn’t think he would be eligible.

“I never even thought to reach out. I thought you needed to meet a certain amount of criteria to even qualify for it and I didn’t think I could qualify for housing assistance,” he revealed. “[ I considered myself] low-priority because I’m young and can still work. My own morals caused me to not reach out for housing help for a long time.”

Even after that initial connection, Ben didn’t think much would come out of it.

“I didn’t put a lot of eggs in the housing basket. I figured it would be two years until I got housed,” said Ben.

Then, in early December 2020, Ben caught COVID and was sent to a hotel where he could safely isolate. In addition to the temporary overnight shelter space, Edmonton’s homeless-serving sector has been operating isolation spaces for people experiencing homelessness with COVID-like symptoms. When he was in isolation, the head nurse connected him to Jake, one of Homeward Trust’s Housing Outreach Workers (HOW), to continue the process he began with housing services at Tipinawâw.

Jake frequently checked in with Ben and provided him with updates on the housing search, describes Ben. Then one day, Jake informed Ben of a vacancy for a one-bedroom apartment in market housing.

“I looked at the pictures and told him that I wanted it,” said Ben.

Just before getting released from isolation, Ben learned that he had been approved for the apartment and on Dec. 21, 2020, he moved in.

“Everything that I have been trying to do has become 80% easier, because I have my own place,” he said. “I thought this was going to be me in three years from now.”

Housing First operates as a client-centered, individualized program to focus on what success looks like for each person, because needs differ. Housing First providers work with individuals to determine what they want, what is holding them back from housing and what they need to be successful.

Once housed, participants like Ben are assigned a Follow-up Support Worker (FSW) who works with them in maintaining their housing. Ben receives weekly home visits and monthly rental assistance until he can increase his income.

Ben confessed that he felt scared about getting a home, because he feared that he would lose it again without securing a job first. The difference this time is that he’s supported through Housing First

“They don’t just give you an apartment and then say ‘see ya!,’” he said. “There’s so much extra beyond just housing. They’re very involved.

“Homeward Trust has alleviated [my worry] and has set me up for a long time where if I can’t succeed with what Homeward Trust has given me then the problem lies with me.”

Now that Ben is housed, he has big ambitions. He hopes to start his own moving company and plans to enroll in some business classes to make that dream a reality. He’s also been actively pursuing his hobbies—making music and drawing—which he said he wasn’t able to do when he was experiencing homelessness.

Ben added that none of this could have happened if he hadn’t been housed.

“Housing takes care of everything—mentally and physically. If you don’t have a safe place to call home, then how can you improve? [Housing] needs to be the first thing,” he said. “It’s way too hard to do anything else if you don’t have a home.”

Ben is one of 12,039 people to have been housed through Edmonton’s Housing First program since 2009 (Edmonton BNL, January 2021).

Valentine’s Day at Tipinawâw

February 18, 2021

The Edmonton Convention Centre’s culinary team was excited to serve a specially prepared meal to Tipinawâw guests this past Valentine’s Day. With the generous support of partners from Edmonton Food Bank, the ECC culinary team was able to deliver the level of culinary excellence that their reputation has been built on—every plate prepared at the Edmonton Convention Centre is an individual culinary experience hand-crafted with passion and love. This Valentine’s Day at Tipinawâw was no exception.

“We are a team with a passion for delicious food and originality. We decided to push our creativity with this meal to create something unique for our guests,” says Executive Chef Serge Belair. “Delivering great food experiences is what we’re known for, but our team has a renewed sense of pride when we can cook to give back to our community.”

This holiday, the ECC culinary team was proud to serve surf n’ turf bison short ribs with oven-roasted prawns, truffle mashed potatoes and beef au jus sauce. To complete the meal, Executive Pastry Chef Jason Wang and his team created a stunning dessert—red berry yogurt vanilla chantilly cream pate de fruit with citrus almond sable—signed and sealed with a signature touch of love. 

Community Collaboration Protects People During Extreme Weather

By Jasmine Salazar, February 11, 2021

An extreme cold snap, with temperatures dropping to the -30s, is just another reason for people to stay indoors.

Add windchill and the outdoors become even more treacherous for Edmontonians experiencing homelessness. These winter conditions can be life-threatening and require a highly coordinated and responsive plan to ensure everyone has a safe and warm place to go.

With many indoor public spaces closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, people experiencing homelessness don’t have access to sites that would typically provide respite from the cold. And with fewer people out and about due to COVID, there is a risk of someone needing assistance not being spotted.

The city’s homeless-serving sector—comprised of the City of Edmonton and more than 25 system and agency partners—already coordinates the Sector Emergency Response, an emergency response plan that operates when weather conditions worsen and increase the risk of exposure for people experiencing homelessness by expanding supports to keep them safe from the elements.

But the latest drop in temperatures intensified the need for additional supports and triggered the activation of the city’s Extreme Weather Protocol, a set of actions that complement the existing Sector Emergency Response.

Additional measures in the protocol included removing transportation barriers to ensure people were getting to the shelters safely, as well as increasing shelter capacity through additional beds and supporting supplementary temporary accommodation locations.

This year’s Extreme Weather Protocol included the activation of two dedicated Edmonton Transit Service buses running overnight bus routes—a north loop and south loop—between emergency shelters, transit centres and several other key locations in the city to ensure safe transportation to shelters.

Staffed with outreach workers from various local agencies, who were on board all night supporting riders, the buses ran overnight transporting people to one of the city’s shelters. Aside from regularly scheduled stops, buses also stopped if they saw someone out in the cold, inviting them on and providing assistance.

On the first night of the activation, approximately 60 people used the overnight bus to get to shelters, with that number more than doubling to nearly 141 a night as the extreme cold persisted and more people learned about the service. An additional two buses were added (one on each loop) to increase frequency and respond to higher than expected demand.

While there continues to be capacity at shelters, extra beds were also added as a contingency to ensure beds are always available, including:

  • Tipinawâw (located at the Edmonton Convention Centre), operated by multiple agencies, where 50 spaces have been added for a total of 350 beds
  • Trinity Lutheran Church, operated by the Mustard Seed, has opened up 40 spaces
  • Al Rashid Mosque, operated by volunteers of the Canadian Islamic Center, has opened 72 spaces

These spaces are in addition to the existing temporary shelters in operation included Tipinawâw (as mentioned), CESSCO (Mustard Seed) and Moravian Church.

Edmontonians have also stepped up to support their vulnerable neighbours through the cold snap. Bissell Centre and partner agencies put out an urgent call asking for winter clothing for guests of Tipinawâw. Donations poured in from across the city providing essential items. The response from concerned citizens wanting to help was so great that the closet filled up and the call out changed to focus on the most critical items – men’s winter clothing and gloves. Donations are still being accepted Monday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm. (Visit Bissell Centre for more details.)

The City, Homeward Trust and community partners work together to determine when it’s appropriate to activate the City’s Extreme Weather Response. They consider Environment Canada weather warnings, existing capacity of Edmonton’s emergency shelter system and emerging concerns expressed by front line staff who regularly interact with people experiencing homelessness.

How Cree Language Brought a Missing Person Home.

February 6, 2021

It was a cold day when a young Indigenous man arrived at Tipinawâw seeking help. He had just been discharged from the hospital after experiencing two overdoses and was visibly in distress. Our on-site medical staff tried to assist the young man but he remained quiet and did not seem to want their help. At first, they though he was refusing to speak out of pain or frustration but it quickly became apparent that he spoke very little English. Everyone’s concern grew as the young man hunched over in agonizing pain. 

That changed when the medical team asked Shonan Awasis & Renita Badger, Cultural Connectors from Bent Arrow, for help. A lot of the work we do in our sector is about building relationships and trust with our clients. These relationships allow Bent Arrow’s Cultural Connectors to share and pass down the cultural teachings, including language, which empower many of our Indigenous community members.

Cree Language is a gift that ties many Indigenous people to their family, friends and home. This young man’s story is a brilliant example of the power of language in action. Shonan knew that this young man was from a small, Cree speaking community in Northern Alberta and began speaking Cree to him.  

It became clear that all the young man wanted to do was to go home. He would do anything to get home. 

Shonan facilitated a call between the young man and his family and found out that the young man had been listed as a missing person for the last three months. His family and community had been worried sick. They’d even come to accept the worst. Through Cree Language Shonan was not only able to comfort the young man and get him medical attention he needed, but he also reunited the young man with his family. 

Good news stories like these inspire our frontline workers and remind us of the importance of the role that culture and language play in providing accessible services at Tipinawâw. 

Oodle Noodle at Tipinawâw

December 20, 2020

The spirit of giving is alive and well in Edmonton this holiday season. 

Tipinawâw received a special delivery on December 15 – the ingredients for 700 servings of Oodle Noodle were personally delivered to the Edmonton Convention Centre by local favorite Oodle Noodle with support from ATB Financial. Temporary Pandemic accommodation guests dined on Oodle Noodle bowls for lunch and dinner, which were prepared and served by Edmonton Convention Centre staff on December 18. 

Thank you Oodle Noodle and ATB Financial! 

Collaborative Response to second wave of COVID-19

December 12, 2020

Our collaborative response to the second wave of COVID-19: Keep our community members and staff safe and reduce the spread

In October, with winter around the corner and COVID-19 cases on the rise, we needed a temporary solution to keep people who were experiencing homelessness in Edmonton sheltered and safe. We had two questions to answer in just two weeks:

What happens when a person who is experiencing homelessness needs to isolate?

And how do we keep people sheltered from the cold while maintaining physical distancing?

On October 30, we opened 24/7 temporary accommodations at the Edmonton Convention Centre as a collaboration between the City of Edmonton and inner-city non-profits, including Bissell Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed and Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, slated to continue until March 2021. Now known as Tipinawâw (tee-pin-a-wow), a Cree word meaning “sheltered from the outside elements”, our location at the Edmonton Convention Centre provides shelter to approximately 300 people, as well as day and night services, including mental health, overdose prevention, Indigenous cultural supports, housing, youth supports, storage, security and meals. 

Community member experiences and COVID-19 protocols at Tipinawâw

December 3, 2020

The Intake process at Tipinawâw, led by Boyle Street Community Services, is crucial to the success of our public health measures in keeping our community members and staff safe. Community members enter the building through the big doors at the top level of the Edmonton Convention Centre on Jasper Avenue, where they are greeted by our Intake team. Theo Admiraal, Boyle Street’s Intake and Administration Manager, explains the Intake and screening process: 

“Here [at the entrance], they sanitize their hands, put on a mask, get their temperature checked, and answer standardized COVID-19 screening questions. Once the screening process is complete, they go to an Intake worker who will check them in based on their profile: first name, last name, and date of birth. Then we refer them to any services they are looking for.” 

Community members who pass the screening process, meaning they are not experiencing symptoms of COVD-19 or identified as close contacts, can drop off their belongings in our secure storage area and make their way to Hall A, the heart of the action at Tipinawâw. Here, they will find the Drop-in area with physically-distanced tables, meal service, and a shower and laundry room. The nursing station is also nearby with 24/7 wound care, harm reduction supplies, and an overdose prevention site. 

Physically distanced seating area in the Drop-In area of Hall A at Tipinawâw.

Photo from CFWE Radio

Our priorities: Keeping our community members safe and reducing the spread

November 27, 2020

While we are constantly adapting our services at Tipinawâw to meet the needs of our community, our priorities remain the same. Our utmost priorities are keeping our community members and staff safe and reducing the spread of COVID-19. Marliss Taylor, RN, the Director of Health Services for Boyle Street and Co-Lead of our COVID-19 Response Committee, speaks to the goals of our medical response in keeping community members and staff safe: 

“We follow public health direction and all the proper PPE is provided to everyone. We remind people to follow the rules in terms of physical distancing and washing their hands. We know that transmission happens through people’s eyes, nose or mouth, so we need to make sure that nobody is touching their face and wearing a mask and eye protection.” 

Our medical team responds not only to COVID-19 but also the ongoing opioid crisis which disproportionately affects people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Edmonton. As Taylor explains, Tipinawâw’s overdose prevention site and overdose response team are essential to our community member’s safety: 

“Another huge priority is preventing overdoses. Sometimes overdoses happen in the rest of the building if people have smoked their substance or chosen not to use our Overdose Prevention Site. There is an immediate potential for death, so that’s a priority.” 

Marliss Taylor, RN. Director of Health Services for Boyle Street and Co-Lead of our COVID-19 Response Committee.

Our innovative contact tracing and Tier 2 facilities

November 15, 2020

Amidst rising COVID-19 cases in the city, more of our community members are needing to isolate as they are identified as close contacts or waiting for COVID-19 test results. Inner-city agencies have developed a network of facilities where people who are experiencing homelessness can go when they are required to isolate. Admiraal, Boyle Street’s Intake and Administration Manager, explains what happens when we are notified of a new positive case in our community: 

“We get notified through Alberta Health Services (AHS) or the Edmonton Isolation Facility when a new patient who is experiencing homelessness tests positive for COVID-19. When we have a positive, all inner-city agencies do their own contact tracing. Our contract tracing follows AHS guidelines and identify anybody who has been within 6 feet of each other for 15 minutes or longer, even if both people were wearing PPE.” 

All inner-city agencies share their contact tracing lists, which are uploaded to our Intake system. If someone who is flagged as a close contact arrives at Tipinawâw, they are promptly taken to our Tier 2 area, a walled off section of the building, where our nurses screen them for symptoms of COVID-19.   

Tier 2 areas are for people who are legally required to isolate because they are a close contact of a confirmed case but are asymptomatic, with either a negative or pending COVID-19 test. Often, community members become a close contact if they slept in a shelter in proximity to a person confirmed positive. Community members stay in the Tier 2 area for 14 days after their last exposure to the virus. 

The good news is that our contract tracing system is incredibly streamlined and efficient. It is important to get people to the Tier 2 or isolation facilities as quickly as possible in order to minimize the spread of the virus. Many inner-city agencies, like Boyle Street, have hired their own contract tracers, leading to incredible results. As Admiraal explains: 

“Right now, since we have our own contract tracer in-house, it usually takes about 4-8 hours between the time a positive case is announced, to us completing a close contact list. Currently, AHS takes about 5-7 days longer due to the current strain on the health system. AHS still phones to follow up on contact tracing but we are able to move forwards a lot sooner.” 

At Tipiniwâw, our Tier 2 area is equipped with its own day, night, and meal services and recently upgraded from a capacity of 18 to 45. A few weeks ago, we opened an additional Tier 2 site called Sandy’s Place in response to rising COVID-19 cases and increased numbers of people who are identified as close contacts and in need of shelter. 

Staff set up a sleeping area at Tipinawâw. Photo from CTV News Edmonton

Moving forward: Rapid COVID-19 testing

November 10, 2020

Acquiring rapid testing is an exciting new horizon for Tipinawâw. We currently have limited COVID-19 testing on-site, which must be sent to the provincial lab for analysis and takes two days to process. We are currently training medical staff to use new rapid testing technology, which will allow us to provide results within 15 minutes of a COVID-19 test. Taylor explains the importance of speed when it comes to COVID-19 testing: 

“Our goal is to try and keep people as safe as possible and to be able to do quick assessments so we can get people to the appropriate spaces, such as isolation, as quickly as possible.” 

Reducing testing times will allow us to further streamline our COVID-19 response and transfer people to the appropriate location to reduce the spread of the virus. While we do not know what lies ahead, we will continue to make the health and safety of our community members and staff our priority. We continue to follow public health guidelines and coordinate with the City of Edmonton and other inner-city agencies to advocate for the best care for our community members.

The Edmonton Isolation Facility

November 6, 2020

There are circumstances where a community member is legally required to isolate, whether they have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or not. Community members are required to isolate if they have received a positive COVD-19 test or if, at any point, they start experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.  

If a community member is required to isolate, we bring them to an isolation room at Tipinawâw and arrange safe transportation for them to the Edmonton Isolation Facility. Run by the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, the Edmonton Isolation Facility provides dignified living in hotel style rooms with a bed, bathroom, TV and internet access, and daily meals. Medical monitoring and staff are available 24/7 and community members are required to isolate for 14 days. The Edmonton Isolation.