City flushing away positive outcomes
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When Amoowigamig, the permanent public washrooms on Main Street, opened last June, it was cause for celebration.
Here was a long dream finally realized, a human need met. These public washrooms at 715 Main St. don’t just provide a place for people to go; they also afford dignity and privacy to a vulnerable population that doesn’t get too much of either. They provide amenities such as a drinking fountain, sinks, a foot-washing station and peer-support staff who can connect people struggling with addiction and homelessness to supports. They help improve downtown sanitation and cleanliness. More than 20,000 people have visited them.
These public washrooms are, by most metrics, a success. Trouble is, they’ve been a bit too successful; last week it was announced their hours would be cut, owing to a lack of funding. Only in Winnipeg.
The city budgeted $200,000 in both 2022 and 2023 to cover Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre’s cost to run the facility for 10 hours per day, seven days a week. Due to “higher-than-expected demand,” that dollar amount falls short.
On Monday, after several agencies touted the success of the facility, city council’s executive policy committee passed a motion to seek $38,000 within the 2023 budget to keep it open at its current hours.
But ideally, these facilities would actually be open 24-7, which would cost the city $650,000 per year — $450,000 more than budgeted. Another $200,000 could be diverted to Amoowigamig from the city’s “places to go” washroom strategy by reducing the number of temporary portable toilet units from six to three, as suggested in a city report, leaving $250,000 to find.
EPC referred that funding for consideration in the 2024-27 multiyear budget process, with Mayor Scott Gillingham saying he’s supportive of the idea, but that the city requires time to consider round-the-clock service.
That Winnipeg can’t seem to make even the slam-dunk, social-good successes a priority in its budget says a lot about what — and who — the city values.
The Main Street washrooms are a microcosm of Winnipeg’s crumbling social infrastructure. We see those cracks in Winnipeg Transit’s ridership woes. We see it in the lack of accessibility on our sidewalks, with people who use mobility devices unable to pass through intersections in the winter. We see it in the reduction of services at the Millennium Library. We see it in the lack of a civic composting program.
These problems are well documented, but so are the possible solutions. Run more buses, more often. Fix the abject failure that is Peggo by enabling more forms of tap-based transit payment. Prioritize clearing sidewalks for people, not just streets for cars. Make it easier to support programming at our libraries and swimming pools. Allow people to divert garbage from landfills by providing a way to compost organic waste. Provide a place for people to go to the washroom.
These are all things other cities do, things that have precedents. These are things that would not only make our city better but actually save — and, in many cases, make — money.
And even when the city does adopt innovative, common-sense, no-brainer solutions — such as added security on buses — they take far too long to implement, mired in study after study.
And sometimes a washroom is bigger than a washroom. City officials say the support workers at Amoowigamig secured housing for 30 unsheltered people.
Think of what else it could do if it had adequate support.