Downtown Eastside could lose 2 public toilets as funding dries up

Click to play video: 'Downtown Eastside washrooms at risk of closing'
Downtown Eastside washrooms at risk of closing
Two public washrooms on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside could close if funding to keep them open isn't secured. As Kristen Robinson reports, outreach workers and residents say the washrooms are more than just a place to keep up personal hygiene. – Jul 1, 2024

Advocates are sounding the alarm about the potential loss of a crucial public service in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Funding for two public washrooms, one at Pigeon Park and one at Hastings and Campbell streets, is set to expire in mid-July.

The city first installed the facilities, both operated by the Overdose Prevention Society, as a temporary response to the growing homelessness crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Island health authority tests washroom sensors capable of detecting overdoses'
Vancouver Island health authority tests washroom sensors capable of detecting overdoses

But without funding, the facilities are set to close.

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“My greatest fear is our most vulnerable people are right back where they were,” said Melanie Pratt, who works as a washroom attendant at the Pigeon Park facility.

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“It’s like, we set them up to win and then we take it away. The disappointment around the neighbourhood, you can feel it.”

Overdose Prevention Society executive director Sarah Blyth said the washrooms provide a badly needed basic service while allowing those in the neighbourhood to do their business with dignity.

They also provide a public good by keeping the streets, alleys and doorways in the area clean and preventing the spread of dangerous diseases, she said.

“It’s pretty common sense. The alternative is people going to the washroom in the street. It’s the opposite of what people want. It creates a health hazard for everyone,” she said.

“A lot of these services are funded in a sort of patchwork way … it needs to be in a city operating budget, these are basic city services, they keep the city clean, they keep people clean.”

The City of Vancouver says the washrooms were installed with temporary funding from the province and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

Click to play video: 'Providing mobile showers to homeless individuals'
Providing mobile showers to homeless individuals

Staff haven’t been able to extend that funding, Coun. Peter Meiszner told Global News.

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“I understand that this is obviously not the news people in the Downtown Eastside want to hear, there is a huge demand for more public washrooms in Vancouver,” he said.

“We are working with staff on a broader washroom strategy for the Downtown Eastside.”

But Meiszner said the city can’t afford to do that work alone.

He said running public washrooms in the area is particularly expensive because they must be staffed with attendants to maintain cleanliness and to ensure no one is overdosing alone in the facilities.

In the meantime, Meiszner said people in the area may need to rely on other washrooms, like those in community centres or one of a handful of other public toilets the city has installed such as one in CRAB Park.

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