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YWCA Banff suspends hotel operations, focuses on support programs

“Our community has always stood behind us and when we get to the far side of the curve, I am confident we will go into recovery mode and our community will be there to support us.”
The Banff YWCA building. RMO FILE PHOTO
BANFF – The YWCA Banff has suspended its hotel operations to focus on social supports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Operating as a social enterprise, the YWCA Banff relies on revenue from the hotel to go into supporting violence prevention and response programs, the affordable residence program and into paying staff wages. But with the recent COVID-19 pandemic hitting Alberta, staff are focusing on how to support the community through these unprecedented times.

“We are doing what we think is the right thing for our community,” YWCA Banff CEO Connie MacDonald said.

“Our community has always stood behind us and when we get to the far side of the curve. I am confident we will go into recovery mode and our community will be there to support us.”

Still offering all core programs and supports, MacDonald explained how those in vulnerable positions will still have access to the emergency services in the Bow Valley, only with less face-to-face interactions. 

The disruption in how services are delivered comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new disease that has not been previously identified in humans from the coronavirus family, jumping to more than 1,000 cases in the province of Alberta within a month. As of April 3, there were 18 recorded deaths in the province and 196 recovered cases.

The provincial government issued a public health emergency almost two weeks ago, instructing non-essential businesses to shut down and public gatherings were reduced to a maximum of 15 people.

“The measures we have in place are to protect all of us,” Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said earlier this week.

“Until we have more information about who may be at greatest risk, and more evidence about treatments, the best way to prevent severe illness is for all of us to perform physical distancing.”

Restructuring its programs, MacDonald said the YWCA will still offer emergency shelter, domestic and sexual violence outreach, the short-term housing option Project Home, and affordable housing residence – although the capacity to support might be limited.

“Probably the biggest change, like most other social service agencies, is we are looking at how we can deliver services to people in a safe and responsible manner – shifting to using phone and online technologies,” MacDonald said.

While four units are still available in the emergency shelter, YWCA staff encourages those facing violence to call as soon as possible to start building a safety plan. MacDonald said after going through studies about domestic violence during times of crisis, she expects numbers to go up as the province moves through the curve. 

“I encourage people now to get some tools in place and create some networks,” she said.

In terms of the domestic and sexual violence outreach, the programs are still in place with counsellors available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.. Appointments are available online or over the phone. 

For housing, Project Home is still running for those facing homelessness, or who might find themselves in precarious housing situations. Four units are dedicated to the project. 

“How we’ve set it up with our staff is people can access the computer [and] resources through the government and we are doing intake over the phone … trying to shift for less face-to-face, but the spaces are available,” MacDonald said, noting the YWCA is also working with the provincial and federal governments in hope of increasd supports.

And a lesser-known fact, MacDonald said, is that about 100 people already live in the YWCA through the affordable housing residence program. To increase safety precautions for the longer-term residents, staff has increased cleaning, shut down public access to the building except for one entrance, limited the number of people coming in and out of the building and taken furniture out of the shared spaces to encourage people to stay in their rooms. 

"To shut down our social enterprise is a significant decision to us, but we wanted to focus on what our core purpose is and providing support to people experience violence is a core purpose," she said. "We felt shifting our operation in that way was really key at this time but that was a hard decision."

One of the positives, MacDonald said, is that despite the lack of funding with the hotel shut down, the YWCA has seen the community support pour in. Businesses donated fridges to go in individual rooms, several businesses that have taken up creating hand sanitizer have been donating supplies, and even property management companies have been donating food.

“It’s really been a heartwarming side to this – the moral support and people checking in on how we are doing, I’m so grateful and I’m grateful for the leadership of our town … I feel really, really grateful for what we have in this community and I feel proud and grateful for what we have here,” MacDonald said. 

For more information contact staff at the YWCA through email at [email protected] or by phone at 403-760-3200.


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