YWCA Regina's Coldest Night of the Year walk raises over $51k for My Aunt's Place shelter

Coldest Night of the Year participants chose to walk either 2 or 5 km, and the event raised approximately $51,000 of its $75,000 goal by the end of Saturday night.  (Submitted by YWCA Regina  - image credit)
Coldest Night of the Year participants chose to walk either 2 or 5 km, and the event raised approximately $51,000 of its $75,000 goal by the end of Saturday night. (Submitted by YWCA Regina - image credit)

YWCA Regina hosted its eighth annual Coldest Night of the Year walk on Saturday night to raises money for YWCA's My Aunt's Place, and organizers were impressed by the turnout.

Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen, CEO of YWCA Regina, said that 150 walkers on 30 teams showed up to Saturday's event. That's approximately 30 more participants than last year.

"The event was a really fantastic one because it also includes family. So there's lots of children that come out. And I think that's what makes this event very special is that it's an excellent way to provide education and knowledge to young people about family homelessness and what that looks like," Coomber-Bendtsen said.

Coldest Night of the Year participants chose to walk either two or five kilometres, and the event raised approximately $51,000 of its $75,000 goal by the end of Saturday night. That number, however, continues to grow, and donations will be accepted through March.

LISTEN | The Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser for YWCA Regina:

Julia Dima, manager of communication and digital marketing with YWCA Regina, said homelessness often goes unseen and is a severe issue in the city.

Families are sometimes couch surfing, especially women and children, Dima said, and sometimes they choose to stay in a dangerous situation, such as an abusive relationship or an unsafe home, just to be sheltered.

"Oftentimes they're struggling to look for shelter beds which are quite sparse for women and families in our city. Or in many cases, they avoid seeking help altogether because they fear being separated from their children," said Dima.

Submitted by YWCA Regina
Submitted by YWCA Regina

Regina homelessness stats 

On Sept. 22, 2021, Flow Community Projects and community partners, including the YWCA, organized Regina's third Point-in-Time count of homelessness. The count found that 488 individuals were experiencing homelessness.

Point-inTime "is meant to capture sort of one night of what houselessness and homelessness looks like. So they do both on the street counts, drop-in centres and shelters that give us a sense of who's using systems and who's not able to get into shelters that night," Coomber-Bendtsen said.

But the PiT count doesn't include all the people who are staying at friends' houses, so the amount of homeless people is actually higher, according to YWCA.

Still, the count on the street and in shelters found that 44.9 per cent of Regina's homeless population were women and 27.1 per cent were youth and children.

"Something that is extremely staggering as well is that domestic violence, as well as not having enough income for housing or living in unsafe housing conditions, were in the top five reasons that people gave for homelessness," Dima said.

Submitted by YWCA Regina
Submitted by YWCA Regina

Dima said 80 per cent of women YWCA Regina serves are coming for help because they are fleeing domestic violence.

"It really should shine a light on how severe this issue is and how we really have to step up for families."

My Aunt's Place provides meals and food access throughout the day as well as bedrooms, shared common spaces, spaces to smudge and access to knowledge keepers and elders. It'ss the city's only emergency homeless shelter for women and families, and is open 24/7.

"It operates from a trauma-informed, harm reduction and housing first mentality with shelter counselors on staff to help people with the next steps in planning for their housing journey," Dima said.

Dima said 78 per cent of the women and families My Aunt's Place serves are Indigenous.

"We do also know that access to cultural traditions and Indigenous ways of knowing is pretty integral and healing journeys for Indigenous people facing trauma. So it's incredibly important that all of YWCA Regina services are delivered in this culturally-informed way. It's absolutely integral to women's healing journeys."

More resources needed

While YWCA Regina is trying to respond to a major need in the community, Dima said there are simply not enough resources for Regina's homeless population right now.

"In 2022, 433 women and children were housed at My Aunt's Place. But we still had to turn away over 1,300 because of lack of space and resources," said Dima.

"The issue in our city is just gigantic and we need to do more as an entire community to address these things and help women and families before they face a crisis."

Submitted by YWCA Regina
Submitted by YWCA Regina

Dima said emergency shelters in Saskatchewan are typically funded as overnight emergency shelters with one bed, one meal for those who have nowhere to go that night. But she said it's not enough to simply put a roof over someone's head.

"We have to address the trauma, generational trauma, colonialism, sexism and other systems of social injustice that have led to homelessness to begin with. Until we address these core causes we are just putting a Band-Aid solution on things."

Saskatoon's Coldest Night of the Year

YWCA Saskatoon also held a Coldest Night of the Year walk on Saturday night.

Carla Delgado, vice president of engagement and development at YWCA Saskatoon, said there were 85 walkers on 18 teams. This was the third of these walks YWCA Saskatoon has hosted.

The funding is going to the programs and services YWCA provides to the women and families in the Saskatoon community.

"Saskatchewan winters are not fun by far. So it was nice to see people come out and be bundled up. I think it put into perspective what those who are without homes, without winter gear, without a warm meal can go through" said Delgado.

The event raised $29,000 of its $30,000 target. YWCA Saskatoon will continue to raise money all through March.