Women and children fleeing domestic violence now have another safe place to stay in Whitehorse: a new, 10-unit building, called Betty’s Haven, opened its doors on Monday.
“What a beautiful day. Oh my gosh, this is just …This is very… oh thank you.
I can’t believe it’s finally (here)… Oh I will cry,” said Betty Sjodin, the building’s namesake, in an emotional speech during the opening reception.
Sjodin has tirelessly supported abused women for three decades as a volunteer for Kaushee’s Place, the women’s shelter which founded the new complex to serve women who need a place to stay if they require longer recoveries.
The building is aptly named, as the 81-year-old Gwich’in elder still bakes cookies for children and sits down with mothers to have meaningful, encouraging talks with them. She tells the women how she overcame her own challenges, hoping they would realize “there is an end to the road,” she said.
Sjodin decided to give back to the shelter after she took a year to recover from her own plight, she said. She knows first-hand that one must allow the women to “go at their own pace” through the healing process, she said.
She recalled the first time Kaushee’s Place moved, in 1992. When Sjodin started volunteering, the shelter was located in a duplex off Two Mile Hill. One apartment was an office, while the other was a shelter, she said. But too often there wasn’t enough space to meet demand.
“They were coming in and sometimes we had to turn them away. Sometimes we had them on couches or put them on mattresses on the floor,” Sjodin said.
The new building is a big improvement. “It means a lot when you walk into a building and you see beautiful colours and the view is spectacular. Everywhere you look you see mountains and trees. Women will heal a lot faster,” she said.
Although Sjodin devoted almost half her life to helping other women, having the building named after her humbled her.
“I’m honoured. I never ever dreamt that anything like that will ever happen. I stayed with it because I felt that they need someone to be there,” Sjodin said.
Barbara McInerney, executive director of the Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society, which runs Kaushee’s Place and Betty’s Haven, described the building’s opening as “a dream come true.” She thanked all her volunteers, staff, friends and loved ones for dedicating time and effort to make the housing complex a reality.
She acknowledged the last year was particularly stressful, but everyone pulled together.
The project was over 13 years in the making. She came up with a business plan with funding from the Canadian Mental Health Association in 2000. Plans were finally approved after much redefinition and fine-tuning in 2011.
McInerney thanked the architects at Kobayashi and Zedda and the construction team at NGC Builders for having women and children in mind during the design.
The first and second floor have a movable divider in the middle that can be opened to allow children to run free or closed to create another unit for a family. The walls are noise-eliminating. The steel kitchen appliances have a modern look and wide windows allow for a breath of fresh air.
Women can stay in the complex for up to 18 months after they have moved there from Kaushee’s Place, McInerney said.
“Five million dollars is commitment,” she said, thanking the territorial government for granting the non-profit the money to build the complex.
The total cost for Betty’s Haven, including land and taxes, was $4.5 million, McInerney said.
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