New ‘trauma-informed’ YWCA Regina building nears completion, but $4.5 million still needed

New ‘trauma-informed’ YWCA Regina building nears completion, but .5 million still needed
New ‘trauma-informed’ YWCA Regina building nears completion, but .5 million still needed

Both the Regina building under construction and the YWCA staff inside radiated a sunny day Tuesday morning as they showed members of the media around the new Kikaskihtânaw Center for Women and Families.

The building, now in the final stages of construction, will serve as a shelter for victims of domestic violence and the homeless, for women and children, and as a community center with outreach, child care and other additional services on the site of the former Victoria School between Rae Street and Retallack Street, just south of 12th Avenue.

Work on the building started in 2022and Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen, CEO of YWCA Regina, said the centre will open in September.

That means, however, that the YWCA has eight weeks to raise the remaining $4.5 million needed to fully complete its vision. The project was originally estimated at $54 million and was considered fully funded when the ground was broken. However, the total cost has risen to $70 million, partly due to inflation.

Still, Coomber-Bendtsen was proud to show off the various spaces in the sprawling 100,000-square-foot building in Regina’s Cathedral neighborhood, which is 85 percent built.

‘An act of reconciliation’

The complex has a sweat lodge in the outdoor area, in the middle of the construction site. From the room there is a view of the sauna through large windows.

“It gives a sense of hope and healing to the people we help, and it’s also a way to educate the community and tell the truth,” she said.

Coomber-Bendtsen said the healing and sweat lodge will be run by All Nations Hope Network, an indigenous organization led by matriarchs in the community. The organization teaches indigenous knowledge and conducts ceremonies with urban indigenous people.

Coomber-Bendtsen stands in one of the new childcare spaces. All of these spaces have rounded corners instead of pointed edges, to give the space a soft, safe feel. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

Coomber-Bendtsen calls the involvement of All Nations Hope Network and the lodge space “an act of reconciliation”.

“The YWCA is a colonial institution. We have been around for over 100 years and have certainly been privileged and continue to be so, from that colonial past,” she said.

“And so it was really important for us to take back the space that was stolen from indigenous peoples. And this is an example of that.”

The space was transferred to the All Nations Hope Network for $1 with a 99-year lease.

“(That is) to ensure that it is maintained as a healing place in our community,” Coomber-Bendtsen said.

“It was designed and led by Indigenous women who gave their input to our architectural team. They learned a lot about Indigenous ways of knowing and being through that process.”

Childcare, additional services

Kikaskihtânaw has 180 childcare spaces, a natural play area and numerous different stations and gathering places for the children. The YWCA said special care was taken to design the building in a way that is “trauma-informed.”

According to Coomber-Bendtsen, the building’s layout is intended to give people a sense of connection, with features including childcare facilities and a coffee bar.

“It was really important to use the strengths and resilience of our vibrant, healthy community to build relationships with people in crisis,” she said.

“And when people in crisis get the chance to be part of a community that is not in crisis, it means a lot.

“The design of this entire building is trauma-informed, but it also looks at ways to engage the community as a service and provide an opportunity to build relationships with people so that they don’t need shelter in the first place.”

The YWCA still needs $4.5 million to complete all work on the Kikaskihtânaw Center for Women and Families and is calling on the Regina community for support. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

Coomber-Bendtsen said it was important that everyone involved in the project understood how to transform a large institutional building into a “homely, soft and safe” building.

One way to achieve this was to round the walls and install as many windows as possible.

“They have a kind of natural space that is not pointy and sharp. And when we talked to women who have experienced a lot of violence, it was very important that they could see out. That is part of safety planning,” the CEO said.

YWCA Regina drew its inspiration for trauma-informed design in part from the Ronald McDonald House in Saskatoon and the Calgary Central Library, Coomber-Bendtsen said.

YWCA Regina reports that the Kikaskihtânaw Center for Women and Families will open in September. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

The Kikaskihtânaw Center for Women and Families will have a large hall with tables and chairs, close to the coffee house, and there will be a play area for the children of visitors to the center.

There will also be a second-hand shop where people can shop and the new building will have rooms where police can sit with people for questioning and investigations.

“So if a woman has experienced violence or an assault, that can happen here in a place where they might be more likely to do it because it’s a safer place or feels safer. It feels more welcoming than the police station,” Coomber-Bendtsen said.

Trust in the community

While YWCA Regina still needs $4.5 million to complete Kikaskihtânaw within the next eight weeks, Coomber-Bendtsen said the community has already done a lot to get the project where it is now, and she is confident they will continue to help.

“People can make donations, they can sponsor a room, they can sponsor the care of a child. And we’re just really excited that the community is helping us get to the finish line.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Sandra Masters said the city has not been asked to contribute more to the project than it has already. But she said YWCA Regina is not alone when it comes to nonprofits trying to raise money for projects after the pandemic and a period of inflation.

To date, the YWCA has received $5 million in funding from Regina and city land worth approximately $2 million for its new facility, at no cost, the city said.

Masters said she is excited about the impact the Kikaskihtânaw Center for Women and Families will have on the community.

“It’s an incredibly beautiful space,” she said. “That opportunity to be somewhere where you can access services in a safe way … I think it will be one of the first of its kind in Canada, as far as YWCAs go. But really, (it’s) an incredible model.”

YWCA Regina said the childcare will open on Sept. 3 under the provincial plan of $10 per day. Women who are already receiving services from the YWCA can move into the new facility on Oct. 1.