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YWCA Banff hopeful for future of Higher Ground facility

“Anyone that comes through our doors we want to be able to find a safe place for them and the right resources."

BANFF – Celebrating the holiday season, the YWCA Banff opened its doors to thank the community and donors for their support in the continued pursuit of developing a brand new facility in Canmore.

Executive director Connie MacDonald described the proposed facility, Higher Ground, as a “community within a community."

“Anyone that comes through our doors we want to be able to find a safe place for them and the right resources,” MacDonald said.

Part of planning for these needs, she said, is bringing Higher Ground to Canmore because it is the largest population centre in the Bow Valley.

“We want to build in Canmore because that’s sort of where we see future growth,” she said. “We wanted to look at something that would take the best of the current model and then adapt it with the innovations for the future.”

MacDonald shared proposed building designs with guests at the YWCA on Wednesday (Dec. 11). Higher Ground began as an expansion of the YWCA Banff’s women’s emergency shelter space, which currently only offers two units, which does not meet the current need in the community.

“They [donors] are helping us bring our vision to life,” MacDonald said. “It’s a purpose-built shelter, but really it’s [going to be] a program that helps to facilitate support through direct services and prevention for people in the valley who are experiencing violence or the vulnerabilities associated with that.”

Higher Ground will take a holistic approach to the community by incorporating healing for survivors and their friends and families, along with perpetrators.

“They need support … If you have a secure shelter, a safe shelter, it no longer has to be hidden,” MacDonald said. “We need to find ways to work with everyone – that’s what this is about, to better serve everyone.”

The proposed community will also serve to help alleviate the housing crunch taking place in the Bow Valley by featuring client-centred housing focussed on meeting the needs of individuals and families experiencing violence or emergencies. When built, the facility will feature a crisis shelter, second stage shelter, affordable housing and transitional housing.

Higher Ground has a targeted opening date of 2021.

The critical need for emergency services is the Bow Valley is more important than ever in light of the recently released report from the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters that indicated Alberta has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Canada. The report also showed that nearly two-thirds, the highest level of risk seen in eight years, of women accessing shelters in Alberta to escape violent partners face a severe or extreme risk of being murdered.

“The data is shocking,” MacDonald said.

The knowledge gained from the association has informed the planning of Higher Ground in Canmore, she said, because while the majority of clients seen at the shelter are women and children, the YWCA team knows they need to prepare for the changing demographics that will be accessing the centre.

“In the future, there will be more men coming through our doors, there will be more Indigenous women, there will be more members of the 2SLGBTQ community. We know there will be more seniors, more people with disabilities,” MacDonald said.

“What we’re looking at is more of a model for the future – the model we’re using today is 25 to 30 years old. We want to look at how we can provide the best supports and services going forward for the long term.”

The concept for Higher Ground has been presented as potentially being built on land at 1450 Palliser Trail, a.k.a. the moustache lands, and a pitch for the project has been made to Canmore town council. 

“That’s kind of our stumbling block right now, getting land,” MacDonald said.

The YWCA is committed to turning this vision into a reality, MacDonald added, and the backing the organization has received for the Canmore facility has been incredible.

“[Canmore] Town council has been very supportive,” she said. “We have been working together very closely.”

Hans Helder became involved with the YWCA through his work with the Rotary Club of Canmore and was part of the committee that awarded $250,000 in matching grant funds to help the Higher Ground project.

“This was the largest capital investment we ever thought about making,” Helder said. “We were very impressed with the YWCA team, their commitment to women and children and their commitment to moving forward in a way that would provide a very much needed service in the Bow Valley … They’ve got some really, really good people working here.”

While the project has taken longer to break ground then was hoped, he said, the group is pleased with the progress that is being made.

The YWCA Banff is exploring ways of obtaining property in the community, he said, be it through municipal, provincial or federal land grants, or another opportunity.

“I’m personally very proud of the fact that Rotary has been an early funder,” Helder said. “It helps take this very generally amorphous idea and turn it into something more concrete.”

Helder said that he is pleased to see how the investment from Rotary is helping the Canmore shelter find life, adding that seeing the operational and physical design of the proposed community only adds to the excitement.

A standout aspect of Higher Ground, Helder added, is that the facility will serve to help people from the moment of crisis to the moment they reach full and meaningful recovery.

“Sometimes people make bad choices because they don’t have any other choices, and so all too often in these kinds of situations, women end up going back home because they have nowhere else to go … We were pretty positively impressed with the thought they [the YWCA] put into the project – it’s a whole program construct,” Helder said. “We’re very interested in ensuring this initiative actually proceeds. 

"We’re feeling very optimistic.”



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Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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