An organization that supports vulnerable young people in Edmonton's Old Strathcona district has been ordered to vacate its city-owned building after an assessment found structural issues and a need for extensive repairs.
The Old Strathcona Youth Society has occupied its 100-year-old building at 103rd Street and 83rd Avenue for about 25 years.
The City of Edmonton has said the group must leave by a March 31 deadline.
Executive director Ian Pidgeon said the non-profit received notice from the city on Dec. 14.
Since then, there has been a reduction in life-saving services for youth as the organization deals with the scramble of trying to find a new building, Pidgeon said in an interview.
"We have to take a look at what services we can continue to provide versus which ones we have to pull back on," he said.
"We're going to be remaining open for a period of time until we're ultimately forced to leave."
Executive director Ian Pidgeon said the organization received the eviction notice on Dec. 14. (Nishat Chowdhury/CBC)
The society is one of only a few youth-dedicated drop-in spaces in Edmonton that provide essential services such as employment opportunities, housing referrals, bus fare, clothing, food and harm-reduction services including access to clean injection and inhalation supplies. The services are for young people ages 14 to 24.
The organization is funded through the City of Edmonton's Family Community and Support Services program. It also relies on provincial and federal grants along with fundraisers and donations.
On its website, the society says it is being evicted from the unique and colourful single-storey building.
However, a City of Edmonton spokesperson said the society has not been issued an eviction notice.
"March 31 is the deadline for the society to vacate; it is important for safety's sake that they are out of the space as soon as it is feasible," Bartosz Jarocki, the city's branch manager of real estate, said in a statement to CBC.
He said the city has been monitoring a structural issue with the building and that it has worsened.
"The building's foundation is in really bad shape and from a life safety perspective, we can't continue to lease the space," Jarocki said.
The youth society has operated out of this building on 83rd Avenue for about 25 years. (Nishat Chowdhury/CBC)
The city is working to find another city-owned space that will be a good fit for the organization and reaching out to community partners to help in the search, Jarocki said.
"We know how important the Old Strathcona Youth Society's drop-in services are for young Edmontonians who are struggling and are doing everything we can to help them to find another space."
Dill Prusko, the society's program co-ordinator, says the organization sometimes sees over 200 different young people each month.
"It's a small building that's packed to the brim," Prusko said.
Clothing and winter gear donations from community members at the Old Strathcona Youth Society on January. 17. (Nishat Chowdhury/CBC)
"We're giving [out] clothing donations, we're giving out food, snacks, take-home groceries, hand warmers, a bunch of little things that makes people day to day easier. So we're going to have to find a place for all of this stuff," they said.
"If you take a look around, there's a lot of stuff. So once we start packing, it's going to be a massive undertaking."
Draiden Faval said he has been using the society's drop-in services for two years. He said he felt sad when he heard that the organization was leaving the area.
"It's been a great thing to come here every day. I like the staff and the people I got to meet here," Faval said.
Draiden Faval dropped in at the Old Strathcona Youth Society Jan. 17. (Nishat Chowdhury/CBC)
The society has started a fundraiser and is relying on donations from the community to seek out potential leasing or purchasing options if a new location isn't secured by the end of March.
It will also transition to an outreach model aimed at granting access to homeless youth in Edmonton.
"We have a plan," Pidgeon said. "I have staff. What I need is a building."