Public washrooms in downtown Winnipeg could have hours cut after use exceeded budget plans

Two programs that provide access to public washrooms to people downtown could be cut back.

A new report says the city will cut back on the hours of the public washroom that opened on Main Street last year.

Named Amoowigamig, the facility had been a dream of homelessness advocates for years. In addition to bathrooms, it had peer support staff on site during its operating hours, 10 hours a day, between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., seven days a week.

Since opening June 3, the facility has been visited more than 20,000 times.

“By all accounts, delivery of washroom services with on-site peer supports has been a tremendous success at Amoowigamig,” states a report authored by Tanis Knowles Yarnell, acting manager of community development, and presented to the community services committee.

Despite that success, the report says hours will be cut back to eight hours a day starting May 16.

The city had budgeted $200,000 annually for operations, but use has exceeded expectations. Consequently, the city report says the hours must be cut back.

People who live and work in the area told CBC News the city should find a way to keep the facility open longer.

“So many people need it. They should, so that the streets will not be messed up,” said Assumpta Winston-Ubanwa.

Jamie Reimer hasn’t used the facility himself, but said many of his friends have.

“A lot of people with addictions issues use it, but it’s also needful … to have proper bathrooms.”

“It’s convenient. I mean, I’ve got a home and a place to live and even I’ve had to [use the washroom],” said David Dueck.

An online petition on launched by University of Manitoba religious studies professor Justin Jaron Lewis, calling for city to increase funding for the washroom, had garnered more than 600 signatures by Tuesday.

Community services committee chair John Orlikow says he would like to explore other less expensive models of operating the washroom, perhaps with scaled back support services, in order to keep it open longer.

“The permanent [washroom] has proven to be very successful, and we need to continue to find ways to keep those hours open, but we do have some budget constraints on that one,” he told reporters after the meeting.

Temporary washrooms ‘increasingly negative’

While the city report declared the permanent washroom facility a success, it was less enthusiastic about a program that installed temporary portable toilets around downtown and the North End.

“Our experience with the temporary washroom project, which started in response to the public health restrictions during the pandemic, has been increasingly negative, with only a handful of locations functioning well, for a few months at a time,” said Cindy Fernandez, director of community services.

The portable washrooms have been a target for vandalism. The project started with seven washrooms, but after several fires, there are now only three left.

One of those fires happened in the washroom at Crossways in Common church on Furby Street within the last few weeks.

Fernandez told the community services committee on Tuesday the city may not continue with the program.

That didn’t sit well with Orlikow.

“The temporary model does seem to meet a need during different seasonal times. So I don’t think I’m ready to give up on that model yet. I’m definitely not ready to give up on that model and I’m hoping that administration will come back again with maybe some other ideas.”

A final report with recommendations is expected to come to the executive policy committee on March 13.

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