EPC seeks to float $38K to downtown public washroom
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More funding may soon be in the pipeline to keep Winnipeg’s lone permanent public downtown washroom from cutting its hours of operation.
On Monday, council’s executive policy committee passed a motion to seek $38,000 within the 2023 budget to keep the facility at 715 Main St. open, and allow Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre to offer social services for 10 hours per day at the site for the rest of the year.
The decision came after several agencies heralded the success of the facility and urged EPC to not just maintain but expand its hours.
“This is much more than just a washroom facility. It’s an emergency resource for our community. They’re doing toxic drug overdose reversal, providing many harm reduction supplies and then also helping folks find housing because they’re a place that can make that connection for folks,” said Jamil Mahmood, executive director of Main Street Project.
“It should be funded for 24 hours, seven days a week.”
A City of Winnipeg report notes the facility known as Amoowigamig has been deemed a “tremendous success” since it opened in June 2022, with 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily operating hours to serve some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
However, its operations were slated to be cut to eight hours a day, starting May 16. The city budgeted $200,000 in each of 2022 and 2023 to cover social support costs but high demand is now expected to exceed that level of funding.
Mahmood said the city should approve $650,000 per year, which Ma Mawi estimates would be needed to provide round-the-clock social services at the site.
“That’s about giving people the dignity to use the washroom when they need it,” he said.
EPC referred that funding for consideration in the 2024-27 multiyear budget process.
Mayor Scott Gillingham said he’s supportive of continuing the current service level but believes the city needs time to consider 24-7 operations.
“It’s expensive, and I think part of the reason we would move it to the 2024 budget is to give us time to dialogue with community providers… There may be other agencies or third-party groups within the city, within our community, that could assist with that to help maybe offset some of the costs associated with providing 24-7 operations,” said Gillingham.
Coun. John Orlikow, community services committee chairman, said finding $38,000 to ensure 10-hour-per-day service is an obvious first step. “I think that’s the minimum we can do. Like I’ve said before: the pilot project is quite successful.”
On Monday, EPC voted to transfer $20,000 from the temporary washrooms program — part of the city’s “places to go” strategy — to the permanent structure, as part of the potential new funding.
The temporary program has already declined in scope, due to damage, theft and vandalism, said Orlikow.
“The funds are just sitting there because the porta-potties have been vandalized to the point that they can’t be reused or folks have said they’re just not working for us. The money is there, it’s appropriate to just shift it over,” he said.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, a long-time proponent of adding public washrooms, cast the sole vote against the plan at EPC.
Rollins said she’s concerned about a potential lack of funding for the facility in early 2024, since the deadline for that budget isn’t until March 31, 2024. She also worries about the current plan draining money from temporary washrooms.
“I’m not a fan of robbing the porta-potties to pay for the permanent hours,” said Rollins.
The matter still requires full council approval.
Meanwhile, EPC unanimously approved a call to let the company that owns the Winnipeg Jets explore a potential purchase of Portage Place mall.
Pending council approval of the move, True North Real Estate Development (a division of True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd.) has said it envisions a potential “mixed-used community,” with housing, services and programs to better fit the area’s social and economic needs.
EPC opted to postpone its vote on a call to request provincial legislation to deem more city workers as “essential,” which would ensure their work continues during a labour dispute. EPC is now expected to consider that matter next month.
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.