New 'trauma-informed' YWCA Regina building nearly complete, but $4.5M still needed

YWCA Regina CEO Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen looks out on the construction site that will soon open as Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families.  (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)
YWCA Regina CEO Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen looks out on the construction site that will soon open as Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)

Both a Regina building under construction and the YWCA employees inside it were bright and sunny Tuesday morning, as they took members of the media on tours through the new Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families.

The building, now in its late phase of construction, will function as a domestic violence and homeless shelter for women and children, as well as a community hub with outreach, child care and other wrap-around services at the former Victoria School site between Rae Street and Retallack Street, just south of 12th Avenue.

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

However, that means the YWCA faces an eight-week time crunch to raise the remaining $4.5 million needed to fully complete its vision. The project was initially pegged at $54 million and, at the time of the sod-turning, was considered fully funded. However, total costs have risen to $70 million due in part to inflation.

Still, Coomber-Bendtsen was proud to show off the various rooms in the sprawling 97,000-square-foot building in Regina's Cathedral neighbourhood, which is 85 per cent built.

'An act of reconciliation' 

The facility has a healing and sweat lodge in an outdoor space at the centre of the building site, which can be viewed through large windows from the inside.

"It brings a sense of hope and healing to the people that we serve, and is also a way of education and truth telling to the community as well," she said.

Coomber-Bendtsen said the healing and sweat lodge will be stewarded by All Nations Hope Network, an Indigenous organization led by matriarchs in the community. The organization teaches Indigenous knowledge and performs ceremonies with urban Indigenous peoples.

Melissa Coomber-Bendsten, YWCA Regina CEO, stands in one of the new facility's childcare rooms. All of these rooms have rounded corners, instead of pointed edges, to give the space a soft, safe feel.
Melissa Coomber-Bendsten, YWCA Regina CEO, stands in one of the new facility's childcare rooms. All of these rooms have rounded corners, instead of pointed edges, to give the space a soft, safe feel.

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

Coomber-Bendtsen calls All Nations Hope Network's involvement and the lodge space "an act of reconciliation."

"The YWCA is a colonial institution. We've been around for over 100 years, and have certainly [been] privileged and continued to [be] from that colonial past," she said.

"And so for us, it was very important to bring back space that was stolen from Indigenous people. And this is an example of that."

The space has been handed to the All Nations Hope Network for $1 on a 99-year lease.

"[That's] to make sure that it is preserved as a healing space in our community," Coomber-Bendtsen said.

"And it has been designed by and led by Indigenous women giving their opinions to our architect team, who have learned a lot about Indigenous ways of knowing and being through that process."

Child-care, wraparound services

Kikaskihtânaw has 180 child-care spaces, natural play space and numerous different stations and gathering spaces for the children. The YWCA said special care was taken to make sure the building was designed in a way that was "trauma-informed."

Coomber-Bendtsen said the layout of the building is meant to make people feel connected, from child-care rooms to a coffee shop.

"It was very important to use the strengths and resiliency of our vibrant, healthy community to build relationships with people when they're in crisis," she said.

"And when people in crisis have an opportunity to be part of a community that isn't in crisis, it means a lot.

"So this entire building is trauma-informed design, but also looks at ways of bringing community in as a service, and an opportunity to build relationships with folks to prevent them from needing shelters in the first place."

The YWCA still needs $4.5 million dollars to complete all work on Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families, and is appealing to the Regina community for support and donations.
The YWCA still needs $4.5 million dollars to complete all work on Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families, and is appealing to the Regina community for support and donations.

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

Coomber-Bendtsen said it was important for everyone involved in the project to understand how to take a large institutional building and make it feel "homey, soft and safe."

One way to do that was to curve the walls and to have as many windows as possible.

"They have this sort of natural space that isn't pointy and sharp. And when we talked to women who have experienced a lot of violence, it was very important that they had an ability to see out. That's part of safety planning," the CEO said.

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

Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families may be under construction right now, but YWCA Regina says it will open in September.
Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families may be under construction right now, but YWCA Regina says it will open in September.

YWCA Regina says the Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families will open in September. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

For example, Kikaskihtânaw Centre for Women and Families will have a large foyer space with tables and chairs near the coffee shop, and there will be a play area for children of people who visit the centre.

There will also be a second-hand store where people can shop, and the new facility has spaces where police can sit with people for interviews and investigations.

"So if a woman [has] experienced violence or an assault, it can be done here in a space where maybe they're more likely to do it because it's a safer space or it feels safer. It feels more welcoming than potentially the police station does," said Coomber-Bendtsen.

Putting faith in the community

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

"People can make donations, they can sponsor a room, they can sponsor a child's care. And we're just really excited for the community to help us get over that finish line."

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

To date, the YWCA has received $5 million from Regina in funding and city land valued at approximately $2 million for their new facility at no cost, according to the city.

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

"It's an incredibly beautiful space," she said. "That ability to be in something where you can access services in a safe way … I think it's going to be one of the first of its kind in Canada, as it relates to YWCAs. But really, [it's] an incredible model."

YWCA Regina said child-care spaces will open Sept. 3 under the province's $10 a day plan, and women already being helped by the YWCA will move into the new facility on Oct. 1.