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Regina city council votes to gift $2M land to YWCA for new $35M facility

CBC News with Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen 30 January 2019

Regina city council has voted to gift land in the city’s Cathedral neighbourhood to the YWCA for a new $35-million resource hub.

The community organization has been in its current downtown building near city hall for more than 50 years. When the building was constructed in 1968, the city had an agreement to lease the land to the YWCA for $1 per year.  

When the YWCA proposed to build a new facility at Lucy Eley Park — south of  12th Avenue, between Retallack and Rae streets — it asked for the current lease agreement to move to the new location.

The land the YWCA was asking for is valued at more than $2 million.

On Wednesday, city council voted overwhelmingly in support of gifting the land.

“Women and children, vulnerable, at a moment’s notice could be on the street. I can’t think of a more pressing need in this city than that very issue,” said Mayor Michael Fougere.

“We wholeheartedly support this project.”

Multiple organizations spoke at Wednesday’s city council meeting in support of the YWCA, including Mobile Crisis Services, the Regina Sexual Assault Center and All Nations Hope.

YWCA Regina CEO Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen said the need for this centre is seen in the number of people the organization can’t take in.

“We turned away over 2,000 women and children from My Aunt’s Place, our homeless shelter,” she said. “And close to 1,000 women and children from our domestic violence shelter due to lack of space.”

Coomber-Bendtsen said the new facility will be called the Centre for Women and Families, and will be a “vibrant community hub.”

The cost for the building was broken down at the meeting as $35 million total. The YWCA is hoping for $10 million from the government of Saskatchewan, $12 million from the government of Canada and $5 million from fundraising in the community.

The land in the Cathedral area is important to the YWCA because of the community around it, Coomber-Bendtsen said.

“The Cathedral community is one in which they are very much involved in developing and supporting the folks around them,” she said.

Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens asked about parking and which YWCA facilities the community will be able to use.

Coomber-Bendtsen said the facility’s multipurpose space, outdoor space and ceremonial healing space will all be open to the public. She said the YWCA is investing in more traffic reports and will look into the design to alleviate traffic concerns.

Traditional Indigenous indoor healing lodge

The centre will also have the city’s first indoor healing lodge, said Coomber-Bendtsen.

“In the spirit of reconciliation, Regina will have its first adequate healing and ceremonial space at the centre,” she said. “This sacred space will belong to the community and will ensure that urban Indigenous peoples have access to their traditional cultures.”

Darwin Ironstand, with All Nations Hope, spoke in support of the project. All Nations Hope will be able to use the indoor sweat lodge in the proposed new building.

“Currently we have a sacred site where we have been doing ceremony for the past three years. It has a sweat lodge which is operational when weather permitting,” Ironstand said.

“It’s the vision to have an indoor lodge that would be operational year-round.”

Ironstand said All Nations Hope conducts moon ceremonies, strawberry teachings, traditional therapies, Indigenous language sessions, and daily smudge ceremonies, among other activities.

“We all look forward to lighting the way for all the nations in Regina.”