Hours to be cut at Main Street washroom despite its success
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Although the city deems the permanent public washroom at 715 Main St. a “tremendous success,” its hours will soon be reduced.
Peer support programs at the site, which is designed for homeless people with no other “place to go,” have provided thousands of clean needles, pipes, feminine hygiene products and condoms since it opened in June 2022, says a report to council’s community services committee.
Life-saving Narcan has been used six times to reverse opioid poisoning, while staff also found housing for eight people late last year, the report said.
City data shows between 3,000 and 5,000 people use the facility, named Amoowigamig, per month. When it launched in June, it was open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
“Beyond what is remarkable facility use and harm-reduction exchange numbers, the impact of the social and cultural service component that Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre is providing has been immediate and pronounced… The level of social, economic and health struggle, and personal trauma among this population (being helped) is significant, and it is difficult to overstate the value of Amoowigamig,” writes Tanis Knowles Yarnell, the city’s acting manager of community development, in the report.
Despite the positive review, the site’s hours will be cut.
Council approved $200,000 in each of 2022 and 2023 for the support services, to enable Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre to run the facility for 10 hours per day, seven days a week. Current city funding falls short of covering those hours, the report says.
As a result, hours are slated to be cut to eight hours a day as of May 16.
Melissa Stone, a co-ordinator with the centre, said it’s sad because demand warrants a 24-hour washroom.
“The (number) of unsheltered folks has skyrocketed since before COVID… People are on the streets and they need somewhere to use a washroom and have a bit of dignity… even if it’s just for five minutes to have a bit of warmth because they’re living in tents, a place to wash their feet, maybe wash their face, brush their teeth,” said Stone.
She said the cost to staff the facility is higher than expected due to the level of demand and the need for extensive staff training.
Supporters had hoped to secure enough funding to operate the public washroom 24/7, which the centre estimates would cost about $650,000 per year.
The washroom cost $874,289 to build, and was paid for by two federal grants.
Coun. John Orlikow, chairman of community services, said he isn’t convinced the city can afford to boost funding.
“At this point, the city is already, in my opinion, doing quite a bit. But if we can get other funding in there… I’d like to keep it open (longer),” said Orlikow.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, an advocate for permanent public washrooms, said she will try to ensure the facility keeps its current hours.
“I am definitely interested in keeping it at 10 hours, so I will be trying to open the door to a budget referral,” said Rollins.
The councillor said the washroom has had an “overwhelming” public health impact, so the city should explore whether community and government partners can help support its operations.
“We all remember when the washroom wasn’t there. Anyone that wanted to drive home across the bridge, anyone that wanted to cross Main (Street)… was hit with the scent of urine that really you didn’t even need to roll down your window to smell,” said Rollins.
The city report notes Winnipeg has offered temporary washrooms for vulnerable folks since 2020, which have fluctuated in number and location since that point.
The report notes the washrooms were subjected to vandalism, theft (in some cases including urinals and exhaust piping), structural damage and fire. There were three fires that caused major damage to one washroom and burned down two others.
Four temporary washrooms remain, on Furby Street, Maryland Street, Young Street and Selkirk Avenue.
The report says the permanent washroom has only been vandalized once, which it credits to community members treating the facility as their own.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.