Gotta go? Edmonton building more public potties, but it's not happening quickly
Edmontonians will not have any new permanent public washroom options this summer, but the city is rolling out some trailer facilities as it studies how and where it's best to build new bathrooms.
"It's a basic amenity that the city is absolutely behind in offering, and we need to catch up. We need to do more and we're committed to doing more," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said Monday.
"I wish we could move fast on these issues, but we want to get it right as well."
City council recently approved $2 million to build new facilities, but only one new permanent location was identified in a report on Monday. Administration also received $3.6 million to expand its program at permanent locations and upgrade the mobile washroom pilot project from portapotties to trailers.
The new Warehouse Park scheduled to open in 2025 near Jasper Avenue and 107 Street will have permanent washrooms.
Emily Murphy Park, Kinsmen, and Hawrelak are going to be renovated as part of existing park projects, while Beaver Hills House has been listed as a site that needs to be renovated.
Sohi said the city is continuing consultations on new facilities, but a number for how many will be built has not been pinpointed. An update on new permanent and temporary trailer locations is expected in April.
"We want to make sure the design is right. They need to be accessible for everyone and in safe spaces and easily identifiable for the public. It's important we engage with communities to get it right," Sohi explained.
'BREAK THE STIGMA'
Monday's report offered some data on what's happening at 15 city-operated permanent and mobile washrooms.
Edmonton recorded more than 90,000 total public washroom visits from January to October 2021.
Some of Edmonton's busiest locations, including Churchill Square and Whyte Avenue, are now staffed by attendants in an effort to make them safer and cleaner.
"We do definitely deal with overdoses in the washrooms. We kind of have our rules in place of when to check on people if they're in there for a certain amount of time. All of our staff are Naloxone trained," said Jodi Phelan with Boyle Street Ventures, the company the city hired.
Staffing restrooms results in fewer EMS visits for overdoses, Phelan said. And city staff recorded fewer police calls and repair bills from vandalism at the Whyte Avenue location, after it was staffed.
Boyle Street hires attendants who "are experiencing homelessness and poverty," and Phelan said that's been inspirational to some who live on the streets and use the facilities.
"They're seeing their peers, who were on the street earlier, and going like, 'Hey if she can do that, I can do that too,'" Phelan said.
"I think we really need to work hard to break the stigma around the washrooms," Sohi said. "Kudos to folks at Boyle Street Ventures, who are empowering people to take on these roles. It's a great partnership that we are developing."
BUSINESSES DIVIDED ON WASHROOM ISSUE: DBA
Councillors also heard from the leader of the Downtown Business Association, who said the issue is a divisive one for company owners.
"I think some of our Business Improvement Area colleagues are fine with the current level of (public washroom) infrastructure. There's some perception that having more facilities available might invite more vulnerable populations into the area," Puneeta Sandhu McBryan told councillors.
But she thinks more facilities like Whyte Ave would help because that one is staffed, on a busy corner and part of the interior is visible from the street.
"I certainly look at the Old Strathcona Whyte Ave washroom as the model for what we would like to see for the next permanent facility downtown," McBryan said.
The city also now has funding to hire a washroom coordinator, who will help and encourage "businesses to open up their washrooms to non-patrons in areas that see high washroom usage. "
But at least one councillor wondered if that part of the strategy should be scrapped, so that person could focus on city delivery of washrooms.
"This is clearly a public responsibility. This is a human rights issue, it's having a space to do your bodily function. And to overly burden business or integrate business with this, especially when they might not have the capacity to do it, I wonder if this is unfairly downloading," Coun. Michael Janz said.
Council decided to receive the report for information and the issue will come back to council in April.
Some councillors also want repair work expedited on the washrooms at Beaver Hills House Park, so people downtown have another option sooner. City staff agreed to look into that.
The busiest public bathroom locations, by visit, in 2021 were:
- Churchill Square – 32,368
- Whyte Avenue – 22,413
- Borden Park – 14,730
- Louise McKinney – 8,793
- Boyle Street (mobile) – 6,088
- Queen Elizabeth Park – 1,760
- CN Tower area (mobile) – 1,740
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