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Calgary opens more affordable living spaces to cater to homeless youth

A photo of Boreal Place, taken in 2022. The project was a 25-unit supportive living facility for homeless youth working to escape the challenges of downtown Calgary. A photo of Boreal Place, taken in 2022. The project was a 25-unit supportive living facility for homeless youth working to escape the challenges of downtown Calgary.
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A new affordable living space, now open in southeast Calgary, is helping connect homeless youth with the supports they need.

Boreal Place, a 25-unit facility on 50 Street S.E., is home to a pilot program offering specialized support for eight young people who were brought in from downtown Calgary.

The program is a partnership between Homespace and Trellis, which identified a number of issues facing affordable housing that were emphasized during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for those who are the most vulnerable.

"We had a very significant amount of our homeless population with no place to go, no door to close and nowhere to self-isolate," said Bernadette Majdell, Homespace CEO.

With help from the federal and municipal governments, Majdell says Homespace was able to purchase and renovate a building in Forest Lawn in a short amount of time.

"The total cost came in at about $1.3 million, including the purchase and the renovation. It was a very substantial renovation. That was made possible by the city offering this to us at about $900,000 below market value."

Jeff Dyer, Trellis Society CEO, says the building is set up to help individuals who have fallen through the cracks of Calgary's existing system.

"We did a research project internally about a year ago and realized there was 23 young people who are using our emergency shelter downtown. Of those 23 young people, they were 80 per cent of our users in our emergency shelter," he said.

"We thought, whatever we're doing, it isn't working."

From that, Dyer says they built a strategy to help the small group of eight youth somewhere else outside downtown Calgary, offering them a way to reconnect with culture, family and natural supports. The building can house more residents, but the team says they want to start small.

"It's great because it's outside of the downtown core. It offers them a disconnect from some of the challenges they're facing downtown.

"It's got great access to transit, community, this is vibrant community and it's good to be home here."

The units of Boreal Place are outfitted with all the amenities teenagers need. Dyer says that comes from their extensive experience working with youth.

"We've been working with young people for over 80 years," he said. "Often times, we forget about their basic needs and we, in some ways, dehumanize them.

"This is a chance to give them their lives back and think about them as the centre of their story."

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