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YWCA back on board with Betty House
Family shelter group, city reconcile, agree on a deal to start building transitional house for women

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 15, 2013

Homeless women requiring transitional housing are one step closer to receiving much needed assistance, after the Yellowknife YWCA and the City of Yellowknife signed an agreement Thursday to build a social housing facility for women.

NNSL photo/graphic

City councillor Cory Vanthuyne and Lyda Fuller, executive director of the Yellowknife YWCA, sign a memorandum of understanding at city hall Thursday morning for the construction of Betty House. Homelessness coalition co-chairs Linda Bussey, left, and Pastor Kirk Tastad and YWCA president Yasemin Heyck look on. - Cody Punter/NNSL photo

The agreement brought and end to the conflict that caused the YWCA to walk away from the Betty House project last summer. Lyda Fuller, executive director of the Yellowknife YWCA, issued a strongly worded letter to the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition the group leading Betty House fundraising efforts last summer accusing coalition members of "disrespectful behaviour."

But that was all water under the bridge Thursday as the city and YWCA got together to sign a memorandum of understanding for Betty House's eventual construction.

"I'm really excited about it, because we've been waiting to have Betty House for a couple of years now," said Fuller during the signing.

"This project is long overdue," added city councillor Cory Vanthuyne, who was there to sign the agreement on the city's behalf.

"Hopefully we can get the shovel in the ground withing the coming months and look forward to a structure being built and get on with having deliverable programs."

With the agreement signed, the city will now issue a request for proposals for the facility's design. Once built, Betty House, which is an acronym for Better Environment to Transition in Yellowknife, will offer low rent housing to women and their families that are trying to leave a life of addiction and homelessness behind them.

"I'm really pleased that it's underway and that it's actually going to go out to bid," said Fuller.

The homelessness coalition, which is made up of several community partners, including the city, originally purchased four lots on 54 Street for $935,000 with funding from the federal government. The coalition had planned to partner with the YWCA, which it hoped would run the facility once it was built. However last summer, Fuller's disagreements with the homelessness coalition went public, complaining not enough was being done to move Betty House forward.

When asked what has changed since last summer, Fuller said Thursday's agreement shows the city and the YWCA were putting the past behind them to focus on getting the facility built.

"I think what's changed is that it is moving forward," said Fuller. "Things are moving forward and that's what excites us."

Coun. Linda Bussey, who was appointed as one of the co-chairs of the homelessness coalition in April, agreed that what is important is that the project is finally getting underway.

"This is to benefit people in in need, so let's put our differences aside and see what we have to work together," said Bussey.

One thing that has not changed in the past year is the Betty House's financial status. Last summer, the homelessness coalition was $2 million shy of its estimated $6 million budget for the 30-room facility. Although the coalition has not been able raise any more money over the last year, Fuller said the city and the YWCA have made the decision to start building with the funds they do have.

"We're still at $4 million, so we're going to see what we can build for $4 million," said Fuller.

Due to the shortfall, the city plans to proceed with building the facility in phases.

"We believe we have enough money now to support Phase I, and Phase I will be upward of about 16 units," said Vanthuyne.

The units will include some bachelorette suites, as well as two-bedroom and three-bedroom units to accommodate women with children.

Fuller said the YWCA is still looking for the necessary funds to hire staff to run the facility once it is built. She said the YWCA will continue to search for funding through a variety of foundations and government bodies.

"Any place we can see to find funding for this, we will be looking."

Fuller pointed out that because Betty House is a transitional facility, having qualified and trained staff is essential to its operation.

"An important piece of this is that its supportive housing, and for that support to happen you need staff," she said.

The YWCA currently operates two other emergency and transitional homes for women in Yellowknife. However, Fuller said there is currently a six-month waiting list for women looking for a room.

"We have women coming into our offices every day, wanting housing and they need it now. But when you tell them that it's a six-month waiting list, you just see them shut down," said Fuller.

Fuller said moving forward with Betty House gives women hope for the future.

"This will give women a sense of hope again that something is happening," said Fuller.

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