Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
THE City of Winnipeg could soon spend a COVID-19 response grant to build public washrooms downtown.
On Friday, council’s protection and community services committee approved a motion to devote up to $620,000 to create one or more permanent public washrooms with handwashing stations. The facilities would be open 24/7, with a target completion date of February 2021, if council approves the plan as is.
"I think it’s a basic human right to have access to toilet and hygiene facilities," said committee chairwoman Coun. Sherri Rollins.
Supporters of public washrooms have long argued they could ensure all Winnipeggers, including the homeless population, have access to safe, clean "places to go."
Some members of the business community said the pandemic has highlighted that need. The city’s homeless population had few places to wash their hands during that period, especially when many buildings were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
"As public spaces and businesses shut down, there really wasn’t anywhere to go," said Kate Fenske, chief executive officer of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.
The BIZ has estimated it would cost Winnipeg about $185,000 to install a permanent bathroom, plus $12,500 per year to maintain it.
Fenske said the toilets would not only help the most vulnerable but also make downtown cleaner and more welcoming place.
The permanent toilets would be funded from a $670,000 grant the city recently received from the Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations. That was provided by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, after it received a donation from the Canadian Medical Association Foundation.
The rest of that funding would be used to rent additional temporary, portable washrooms and handwashing stations for the homeless population.
The city could also explore options to seek additional grants and add public toilets beyond the downtown.
During the same meeting, the committee approved a separate, cost-neutral strategy to add public washrooms, which would be developed in greater detail by December 2021, if council approves.
That strategy would add advertiser-funded portable toilets in city spaces and rights-of-way in a pilot program for one or two years.
The ad revenue would support a partnership with building owners, who could open up their existing washrooms to the public, while the city maps out the locations and pays for extra cleaning.
Despite supporting the proposals, one councillor expressed concern about a lack of detail in the plan to build permanent washrooms.
"The project itself is definitely worthy. It’s just how it’s coming forward… I don’t know what type of toilet they are proposing (and) I don’t know what the operating costs are," said Coun. John Orlikow.
"You should have the commitment for the operating funds before you build the capital," he said.
The motion says operating costs that can’t be covered by existing sources should be considered during Winnipeg’s 2021 budget process.
Orlikow said he expects more information will be available before council votes on the proposal.
If approved, the permanent washroom locations would be chosen by city staff and End Homelessness Winnipeg.
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.
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