City may of­fer free land for ‘unique’ YWCA fa­cil­ity

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Regina’s YWCA plans to build a $35-mil­lion fa­cil­ity at the site of the for­mer Vic­to­ria School and Lucy Eley Park — and the city might give them the land for free to sup­port a “unique” project.Melissa Coomber-bendt­sen, CEO of the YWCA, said the pro­posed Cen­tre for Women and Fam­i­lies would be a com­mu­nity hub that will fo­cus on pre­ven­tion, to stop women and chil­dren from be­com­ing home­less in the first place.“The en­tire con­cept be­hind it is that, if we work with vulnerable women and chil­dren be­fore cri­sis, then we’ll re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple need­ing our shel­ter,” Coomber-bendt­sen said.“We turned away al­most 3,000 women and chil­dren last year from our shel­ters, both our do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ter and our home­less shel­ter, due to lack of space,” she added. “So we knew we needed to do some­thing dif­fer­ently.”The cen­tre would host tra­di­tional heal­ing and medicine spa­ces for In­dige­nous women — as well as the city’s first in­door sweat lodge. The plan calls for a com­mer­cial kitchen to help run em­ploy­ment pro­grams and an ad­di­tional 14 af­ford­able hous­ing spa­ces. Shel­ters cur­rently housed down­town would move to the new site.It even in­cludes a harm re­duc­tion fa­cil­ity. Coomber-bendt­sen called it a “chill-out space” for women who are in­tox­i­cated. It could avoid the need to call po­lice.Ac­cord­ing to Coomber­bendt­sen, the cen­tre will bring a wide range of com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions un­der one roof. They’re hop­ing to wel­come groups like Regina Mo­bile Cri­sis Ser­vices and Regina Sex­ual As­sault Cen­tre.The YWCA is plan­ning to pre­serve an open space at the site for pub­lic en­joy­ment.“The park space has yet to be de­signed, as we will be go­ing to com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tions to get in­put into the out­door gath­er­ing, recre­ation and cul­ture space,” Coomber-bendt­sen said.“The space will be in­formed by and open to the pub­lic.”The Cathe­dral Area Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion held a vote on Thursday, opt­ing to sup­port the pro­posal. Board pres­i­dent Brad Ol­son ac­knowl­edged there will likely be res­i­dent con­cerns around park­ing, height and land val­ues — but he said those is­sues must be bal­anced with the needs of vulnerable cit­i­zens.“The Y serves a re­ally im­por­tant pur­pose and it needs to be some­where,” he said. “Just rel­e­gat­ing ev­ery­thing to down­town or Her­itage isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the way to go.”Ol­son also noted that Lucy Eley Park is now merely a “de facto park,” lit­tle bet­ter than a place to kick a ball around. He hopes the YWCA pro­posal will re­sult in a more en­gag­ing space. But he sup­ports the need for more com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion.Coomber-bendt­sen said a pro­posed $2.1-mil­lion land gift from the City of Regina will make a big dif­fer­ence. The idea passed unan­i­mously at a meet­ing of coun­cil’s Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee on Tuesday. It will now go to a full meet­ing of city coun­cil on Jan. 28 for fi­nal ap­proval.“We’re hold­ing back the full cham­pagne bot­tle. But it cer­tainly has a huge im­pact on our abil­ity to now lever­age some dol­lars from the pro­vin­cial govern­ment and the fed­eral govern­ment, as well,” Coomber-bendt­sen said.City ad­min­is­tra­tion was rec­om­mend­ing a land sale at mar­ket value, for just un­der $2.1 mil­lion. In a re­port, it said the YWCA could then use the pro­ceeds from sell­ing its cur­rent site on Mcin­tyre Street, which was it­self gifted by the city years ago.The city has a caveat on the land ti­tle for the Mcin­tyre Street site, al­low­ing them to buy the land back at $1 if the YWCA ever ceases op­er­a­tions. Un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion plan, that caveat would be trans­ferred to the Re­tal­lack Street land.But the com­mit­tee opted to fol­low a more gen­er­ous route. If the idea passes at coun­cil, the city will give away the Re­tal­lack Street prop­er­ties for free and al­low the YWCA to sell the Mcin­tyre Street prop­erty to help fund the cen­tre. The $1 caveat would ap­ply to the newly gifted land.Coun. Bob Hawkins, who moved the mo­tion in com­mit­tee, said that will be a help­ful boost to get the project built. He cel­e­brated the hub model.“They’re now go­ing to be able to give much more proac­tive ad­vice, as op­posed to wait­ing un­til a woman or child has a real dif­fi­culty,” Hawkins said. “They’ll be able to spot prob­lems be­fore they be­come crises.“This is so im­por­tant in our com­mu­nity that we can af­ford to be a bit more gen­er­ous.”Ad­min­is­tra­tion had warned that the gift may cre­ate a prece­dent, prompting more or­ga­ni­za­tions to come for­ward for free land. But Hawkins said the YWCA is dif­fer­ent.“It’s a unique case,” he said. “There are many or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing good ser­vices, but the Y has es­tab­lished a unique set of ser­vices — the hub model, the pre­ven­ta­tive model.”

Regina YWCA CEO Melissa Coomber-bendt­sen hopes to see a new fa­cil­ity built in Lucy Eley Park.

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