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Saskatoon ER sees homeless visits skyrocket, hospital director calls on city for help

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The executive director of St. Paul's Hospital is calling on the city to build a staffed washroom facility to address the escalating burden of the homelessness crisis on the emergency department.

So far this year, St. Paul's Hospital has recorded 1,057 visits by homeless people. Five years ago, the hospital recorded 191 homeless visits.

St. Paul's Hospital Executive Director Tracy Muggli says drugs are being used in the hospital washrooms, staff are being harassed and wheelchairs are being stolen.

"We are all doing what we can, but it is clear more needs to be done," Muggli wrote in a letter to city council.

"We believe the presence of an appropriately staffed washroom (and shower) facility would not only provide the dignity that people should receive, it will ease the pressures we are experiencing at St. Paul’s Hospital and help to recover the capacity needed to deliver safe acute emergency care."

(Laura Woodward / CTV News)

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) President Tracy Zambory called Muggli's letter disappointing.

"This is turning it into an 'us versus them' issue when in fact homelessness, drug addiction, mental health is an issue of the people. It's an issue that all of us need to be working together to solve," Zambory told CTV News.

"All this is doing is avoiding the actual issue. Why are we not coming up with a concrete mental health and addiction strategy in this province? Why are we not dealing with homelessness? You don't deal with homelessness with a bathroom and showers. This is not a solution."

"Absolutely people need to be safe in their workplace," Zambory said, but she doesn't believe a washroom facility is going to be the cure.

"This isn't going to change a thing ... The unsafe conditions are still going to happen because we're not dealing with the root cause," Zambory said.

Muggli said the bathrooms are about dignity.

"No, it's not going to solve the problem of homelessness — which we have a lot of work to do on that issue — but the dignity to be able to address your biological needs, the most basic of human needs, we have to respond," Muggli told CTV News.

The idea of creating public washrooms in the Riversdale and Pleasant Hill neighbourhoods is set to be discussed by city councillors on Wednesday morning.

Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough said she's heard concerns from residents about "feces in alleyways."

Gough said she supports city administration's recommendation of having washroom trailers with staff.

"We need to be talking longer term as well, but for this summer, I think it's really important that we provide something that's staffed and that's 24 hours a day," Gough said.  

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