Even the most vulnerable Winnipeggers should have a permanent place "to go" downtown later this year.
The city is seeking a contractor to build a permanent public washroom facility next to Circle of Life Thunderbird House, with a target completion date of Aug. 31.
Wins Bridgman, an architect who designed the facility, said the project at 715 Main St. is vital to ensure people have access to a clean, safe and private place to relieve themselves, something not always available to the homeless.
"The whole issue of human dignity really plays out every day of the week, every day of the year at Higgins and Main. There is not a single day when I don’t see people in desperation, needing to urinate or defecate in the area in public spaces and private spaces," said Bridgman, director of BridgmanCollaborative Architecture, located directly across Main Street from Thunderbird House.
"As I’ve talked to people about this, they have been so embarrassed and so humiliated about this kind of event that they are forced to do... I see public washrooms as a deeply important part of our infrastructure that affords everyone equal dignity."
Public washrooms have been set up and torn down in Winnipeg during past decades, at times following concerns over safety and drug use. Bridgman said the new facility will use wood and shipping containers to create a strategic mix of openness and privacy that should help this particular bathroom stay put.
The architect said a brightly lit area with three sinks will allow an outdoor feel for much of the year and let in plenty of light during the winter, even when its glass garage doors are closed.
"It has the feeling of kind of an open pavilion and, inside of it, there’s a mural... it’s filled with light," he said.
“As I’ve talked to people about this, they have been so embarrassed and so humiliated about this kind of event that they are forced to do... I see public washrooms as a deeply important part of our infrastructure that affords everyone equal dignity.” — Architect Wins Bridgman
Three bathroom stalls and two urinals will be placed in a more private area, largely constructed out of sturdy, sandblasted shipping containers.
Bridgman said openness and lighting should help make the space more inviting. Each toilet stall will also be equipped with a safety button that can pushed to sound an alarm, should an emergency occur.
"It’s a harm-reduction model for a washroom as opposed to the standard kind of public washrooms that we’re used to.... By increasing the level of transparency, the level of safety... we make safety nets in the washroom itself," he said.
The facility will also include a small office, which could be used by washroom attendants and social-support workers.
Bridgman said the structure is expected to be known as "LOO LOO WPG," while its exact operating hours are still being determined.
The architect has advocated for the addition of public toilets for many years, especially after working with the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and Siloam Mission on a pop-up toilet pilot program that began in 2018.
"We are trying to win the hearts and minds of Winnipeggers (as to) how a public washroom is more than toilets. It is reaching out to vulnerable peoples," said Bridgman.
Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) has championed public washrooms at city hall. She describes the addition of the permanent toilets as "profound human rights work" that will also enhance cleanliness.
“We are trying to win the hearts and minds of Winnipeggers (as to) how a public washroom is more than toilets. It is reaching out to vulnerable peoples.” — Wins Bridgman
"A lot of people spent a lot of time trying to find a place to go, in terms of public urination and feces, which have been found in-between cars and in corners and at front entrances of buildings. The public health need in terms of people needing a place to go has become better and better known as the pandemic wears on," said Rollins, the chair of council’s protection and community services committee.
City council received a $670,000 Federation of Canadian Municipalities grant, which includes $620,000 for the permanent washroom. The remaining $50,000 of that grant was used to add seven portable washrooms in and around downtown, which began popping up in December 2020.
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.