“In 1907, a young woman arrived by train in Calgary and looked for a place to stay. She went to all of the boarding houses and hostels, and finally began knocking on doors of private residences, but she could not find a room.”

You see at the time young women were not desirable boarders as homeowners preferred to have young men stay with them. Women used too much water and electricity doing laundry and washing their hair. It was also at this time that a group of tenacious women by the names of Elizabeth McDougall, Emily Spencer Kerby, Kate Underwood and Alice Jamieson (the foremothers of YW Calgary) rallied together to act on the lack of accommodations available to young single “girls” (as young women were called during this time).

The women rallied the community and created a male advisory board to ensure they would have access to some legal rights like property. This was necessary because the YWCA was founded at a time when women had many legal disadvantages. This environment made it necessary for them to acquire male signatures and guarantees on legal documents. However, despite these hurdles, the women of the early YWCA pressed on and opened a furnished rooming house by the middle of November in 1907.

It is more than a century later that YW celebrates opening another building that will provide safe refuge to vulnerable women. This week, we proudly stood by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the RESOLVE Campaign, Homes by Avi, HomeSpace Society and two levels of government as we opened the door to The Maple – a new permanent supportive housing building. The Maple will provide 25 women who have been identified as chronically homeless with a place to call home, permanently. This building marks YW’s third permanent supportive housing facility in which our team provides support to vulnerable women experiencing homelessness. It also marks more than 100 years of being a place women can turn to when they have nowhere else to go.

We know women’s homelessness is often driven by domestic abuse and trauma. Women will often couch surf, trade sex for shelter or remain in abusive relationships to avoid becoming homeless. Often, women cycle in and out of homelessness knowing that a safe place to stay is critical, but struggling with the income and stability to make that a reality. The Maple provides another avenue where women can live in a beautiful apartment and access important support that empowers them to move from surviving to thriving.

While women experiencing homelessness looked quite different in 1907 than it does today, the need to provide safe shelter where women feel supported has not. We will continue to shift and respond to ensure women always have a place to turn.