Old Strathcona Youth Services being evicted by city, alternative space yet to be found

One of the only places offering drop-in services to vulnerable and unhoused youth in Edmonton will be shutting its doors March 31st, and an alternative space has yet to be found. 

The building housing Old Strathcona Youth Services (OSYS) at 10325 83 Avenue near the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market has been deemed unsuitable for continued use by its landlord, the city of Edmonton. It requires extensive repairs if it’s ever to be used again. 

Ian Pidgeon is the executive director of OSYS. “It’s not clear where we’re going to go. It’s unfortunate timing and we’re pivoting the best we can,” Pidgeon told the Report. 

According to Pidgeon it’s not clear where they’re going to go but they are on the hunt for a new space and have been working with the city of Edmonton to find an appropriate building. Pidgeon also says that OSYS is committed to continuing to provide services to the people who use the space. 

Originally called the Old Strathcona Youth Coop, OSYS opened in 1998 as a haven for vulnerable youth. It is a non-judgmental, flexible, street level resource for about 150-200 unique people a month. According to Pidgeon on an average day 50 people will come through the doors. The organization is funded via municipal, provincial and federal grants as well through donations. 

Image via OSYS Facebook page. 

OSYS offers employment and education information, art and recreation activities, housing referrals, basic need items like socks, underwear, hygiene items and bus tickets. Nurses are frequently there to offer on-site tests or referrals. They have a partnership with Student Legal Services who come by once a week to answer questions and they also provide harm reduction supplies. 

The OSYS lies within the ward of councillor Michael Janz. “Now more than ever we need more programs and wrap-around support for vulnerable young people in Edmonton to provide opportunity and hope. I was made aware that the building was not suitable for OSYS and that city staff are working with them to look at alternatives and I hope we'll have an update shortly,” said Janz in response to our inquiry. 

“But beyond this one service centre, as a province, we are already failing vulnerable young people. With the displacement of vulnerable folks from Downtown/Chinatown, we are seeing a marked increase in vulnerable people—especially young people—in the Whyte Ave and Old Strathcona Area over the last year. Services, supports, and treatment centres, including support and outreach workers have been requested from the Minister and Community Safety Task Force by the Old Strathcona Business Association, but the provincial government has yet to take action,” says Janz. 

Janz also called on Premier Danielle Smith and her government to recognize the crisis brewing with vulnerable, unhoused youth. 

The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate investigates the deaths and serious injuries of children and youth who are or were in the child intervention system. According to the Terri Pelton, the advocate, the number of serious injuries and deaths has been rising the past three years and the last reporting period (between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023) saw the highest number of serious injuries or deaths ever

Pelton’s latest report said that more than three quarters of the deaths and serious injuries were for Indigenous youth. While the cause of many deaths have yet to be confirmed by the medical examiner’s office most of the deaths are suspected to be drug poisonings. 

OSYS being evicted with no place to go comes at an especially bad time. Boyle Street Community Services, the largest provider of services to unhoused people in Edmonton, is still spread out over the city after they were forced to leave their building by the Edmonton Oilers. The city of Edmonton and the Edmonton Police Service just violently swept a homeless encampment while also arresting an award winning Indigenous journalist. Litigation that is challenging the constitutionality of the city’s policy around clearing encampments is ongoing. 

While they have no alternative site at the moment OSYS executive director Ian Pidgeon did call for help in finding a new space and for financial support. You can donate to the OSYS here and if you have any tips on finding a space OSYS can be contacted here