Information from Vernon city staff that at least one porta potty service driver had been threatened with a needle led council to narrowly reject a call to replace porta potties near a social service building downtown.
City staff said the company previously providing porta potties had removed the toilets near the People Place building downtown over problems servicing the facilities and was no longer willing to provide the service.
At a city council meeting this week, Vernon’s director of operations service told council that her understanding was the porta potty company’s drivers were threatened with needles and there was concern about their driver safety.
Over the summer, two of the temporary toilets had been in place behind the People Place building, which is near a park frequented by the city’s homeless population, but were recently removed after a new permanent facility was installed a few blocks away.
The information about the needle threat came as council debated a motion to replace one of those porta potties after receiving a plea from the People Place building for a replacement toilet.
Elaine Collison, the general manager of People Place, which houses more than a dozen social service agencies, wrote to council about the numerous problems the building was again experiencing now that the porta potties had been removed with repeated requests to use their bathrooms.
“There are three corners of our building that are so rank with urine, they are impossible to keep clean. We have gated our dumpster enclosure to discourage its use as an outdoor toilet. We have picked up bucket loads of feces, and quite frankly, we cannot continue to do this.”
“We spend a great deal of time every day outside cleaning up in order to maintain a welcoming environment. The porta potties were a great help to this end.”
In response to Collison’s letter, Coun. Brian Quiring suggested using money left over from the creation of a permanent toilet elsewhere downtown to continue renting a porta potty for the People Place area, at least until winter weather made that type of facility unworkable.
The permanent toilet had come in under its $165,000 budget at around $110,000, including servicing costs, and Quiring suggested using that money to pay for the $1,400/month cost of renting a porta potty from a different supplier.
Coun. Scott Anderson had originally spoken in favour of the idea but after hearing about the reported threats and that chains connecting the porta potties had been stolen, he changed his vote.
The motion to install a replacement porta potty was rejected by a 4-3 vote with only the mayor, Coun. Quiring and Coun. Kelly Fehr voting to support the idea.
Coun. Quiring said he was disappointed by the vote.
However, Coun. Dalvir Nahal, who voted against providing a replacement porta potty, said she believes there is a need for more public washrooms but the rented facilities in that location were causing more problems than they were fixing.
“It had attracted people. They are hanging out there more and we’ve received numerous emails and complaints from some of the seniors that live in that proximity saying they are noticing an increase in people harassing them or intimidating them,” Nahal said.
Nahal believes the city should look into creating some type of public washroom facility in the parking lot of the Upper Room Mission, which is next door to the People Place.