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'A human right': Councillors hear pleas for more public washrooms in Saskatoon


Saskatoon city councillors are mulling options to provide public washroom facilities in two of the city’s core neighbourhoods.

At Wednesday's governance and priorities committee, councillors heard speaker after speaker give passionate pleas for the city to build public accessible washrooms in Pleasant Hill and Riversdale during a rising crisis of homelessness in Saskatoon.

"The opportunity that's presented to you is that other levels of government are abandoning the most vulnerable citizens of this city. You have the opportunity to side with them," Toby Esterby, the director of the Westside Clinic near the corner of 20th Street West and Avenue P North said.

"Do not let this decision get lost in the politics of the day."

Exacerbating the issue is a series of recent changes affecting homeless people.

The winter warm-up centre operated by the Salvation Army at St. Mary’s Parish has closed for the summer, Prairie Harm Reduction recently cut back its operating hours due to lack of funds and the Saskatoon Public Library has reduced the opening hours at four of its branches because of safety concerns following a violent incident.

This effectively left people in Pleasant Hill and Riversdale with no publicly accessible washrooms after 6 p.m.

As services continue to decrease and more people become homeless, Esterby says if the city can make decisions costing hundreds of millions of dollars, surely it can ensure vulnerable people have a dignified place to use a washroom.

"If we can't figure out how to create some human dignity around something so basic as a washroom," Esterby said. "How foolish are we to think that we can accomplish anything grander?"

A report from city administration outlines temporary options to provide washroom facilities until the warmup site reopens in the fall.

Three porta-potties could be rented from June through September for $44,000. A trailer with two toilets and sinks would cost $372,000 before staffing considerations.

Providing two staff members an additional trailer to work from would cost $717,500 if the trailer was rented, or nearly $100,000 less if the city bought a trailer.

Community groups that work with vulnerable people did not support any unstaffed options, stating that unhoused people should have staff nearby to answer concerns of safety, potential overdoses, and property damage.

Shirley Isbister, the president of Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) has experienced people camping out near her office after providing a portable washroom one recent summer.

She had a maintenance worker come by and set up the sprinkler timer this month for the grass surrounding the building. She told the man to have the sprinklers running every day of the week against his advice simply because people in the area use the running water for laundry.

"That's the time when people will come in and shower and then have the opportunity to get their things dried," Isbister said. "So we need washrooms. We know we need water and we need everyone to come together."

The report also offered a “navigation centre” as a more permanent solution.

This navigation centre would have a washroom, laundry, and shower facilities inside with multiple staff members on hand to help users access additional resources and social services. The cost for this facility would likely surpass $600,000, according to the report.

"This is not a luxury, but a human right that requires immediate and substantial investment," said Myron Rogal with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, who helped operate the St. Mary's shelter.

Other options include increasing hours at the city’s public washrooms at Kiwanis Park, River Landing, and the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan site with security officers monitoring from 6 p.m. until midnight.

Randy Pshebylo, the executive director of the Riversdale business improvement district, said the board supports increasing public washroom access, but it doesn’t want unattended facilities, and he hopes the city doesn't opt for trailers or portable solutions because of the lack of dignity it offers a person.

"If someone can't see a disparity there in a neighborhood that needs more help than Riversdale or Pleasant Hill, I don't know what it would take," he said.

City council is expected to receive further recommendations from administrators during the next regular business meeting on May 29. Top Stories

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