Councillor calls for COVID-19 cash to be used to build permanent public washrooms
A porta-pottie beside Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa, placed to allow people including those who are homeless or precariously housed to access a washroom, is seen on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)
WINNIPEG -- The City of Winnipeg has been gifted $670,000 in community COVID-19 funding to support the city's vulnerable population, and one city councillor would like to see that money go towards permanent public washrooms for those experiencing homelessness.
On Friday afternoon, Coun. Sherri Rollins, along with Michael Jack, the city's Chief Corporate Services Officer, presented a motion calling for the city to use recently gifted money to build one or more public washrooms and handwashing stations.
"I also have really been struck during the pandemic on access to washroom issues," Rollins said. "I know that public washrooms are absolutely something that as Winnipeggers – as Winnipeg city council – we should be able to meet the needs of life, security, and dignity."
In early June, the city was told it had been gifted $670,000 through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations (CRFVP). The money came with a catch, specifying a project that would use the funding had to be selected by mid-August and completed by February 2021.
"During an emergency, during a crisis like a pandemic, a lot of things happen out of order or in a way that isn't typical and these funding opportunities certainly came to our attention in a very atypical way," Jack told the city's protection, community services and parks committee.
Rollins and Jack are proposing the city use $620,000 of the funding to build one or more public washrooms that would be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The location of these washrooms would be determined through consultation with End Homelessness Winnipeg and the public service.
The plan, if approved, says construction on the washrooms would be completed by February 2021.
The remaining $50,000 would be used to immediately rent temporary portable washrooms and hand washing stations in areas of the city that would best serve the homeless.
"Throughout this motion, you hear the echoed priorities of the homeless population – Winnipeg's most vulnerable – to access basic toileting facilities," Rollins told the committee on Friday.
"It is reflective of the point of time that we just went through, that we are likely going into again during the pandemic, on how key toilets are for residents, including those with disabilities, the necessity of toileting facilities especially in or in the vicinity of homeless encampments, and how important hand washing stations, toilets, showers, hygiene, and dignity is for residents."
Jack told the committee there are a lot of unknown factors – including how much each unit would cost to build, but said he believes the funding would cover one to three public washrooms.
Jack said the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ estimates it would cost $12,500 annually to operate a public washroom, and said the city would look for ways to recoup that cost – suggesting sponsorships or advertising revenue.
He said as a last resort, they would need to look for funding in the city's operating budget.
"We would need to select a model that made the most sense and was hopefully the most cost-effective in terms of operating maintenance," he said. "We would have to explore every single option."
Rollins said the cost is worth it.
"There are costly consequences for public works when there are no hygiene and sanitation facilities," she said.
"Where homeless encampments are present, all along the riverbank, along Balmoral, has been replete with feces, urine, and rats in some cases, and that comes at a cost to not only the buildings – to schools sometimes – surrounding the riverbank, but to public works."
The committee voted to pass the motion on Friday. It will now go to the executive policy committee for a vote before going to city council.