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Unmet needs: Saskatoon council votes to install public washrooms in Pleasant Hill and Riversdale

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Saskatoon city council unanimously voted to approve spending for temporary supervised washrooms in two core neighbourhoods Wednesday.

Councillors voted to pull a little more than $700,000 to set up temporary washroom facilities in the Riversdale and Pleasant Hill neighbourhoods from June 1 to October 31.

The decision comes after the warm-up centre at St. Mary’s Parish Hall closed for the summer, leaving nowhere for nearby homeless folks to perform basic personal care overnight.

The closure, coupled with a reduction of hours at Prairie Harm Reduction and multiple library branches in a response to a violent attack, effectively eliminated any public washroom access in the area after 6 p.m.

"Unfortunately we had an urgent and emergency need," Pamela Goulden-McLeod, the city's director of emergency management said.

Speaker after speaker spoke of the need for the city's most vulnerable population.

"The city cannot claim to be innovative and forward while we're debating public washrooms," Prairie Harm Reduction executive director Kayla Demong said.

"We should be ashamed that we have thousands of people in our community right now who are forced to live with no dignity."

Major Gord Taylor of The Salvation Army, who helped operate the warm-up shelter at St. Mary's hall, warned the city about unexpected costs. Rather than building a temporary washroom and placing it in a park, Taylor and others said the washrooms need to have people working at them.

Not only is there a potential for danger, but Taylor said a small minority of users will trash the place and cause issues.

"As one of our staff put it, imagine the worst possible scenario in a washroom you can imagine — and it's often worse than that," Taylor said.

Taylor said St. Mary's is still working on repairs to its hall bathroom from damage to the bathroom and plumbing.

Goulden-McLeod said some community partners have already stepped up with a potential location and another has shown interest in staffing the pilot washroom, which she says will mitigate costs.

Although she originally set out to spend no more than $100,000 from reserve funding by using portable toilets, Goulden-McLeod was quickly told by community groups that plan wasn't going to work.

That feedback helped Goulden-McLeod recommend buying a used washroom trailer and contract staff to work it.

Another washroom facility near the riverbank will also be set up, and the city will fund misting stations and three drinking water facilities during the warmer months after one-time funding was used last summer.

The trailer is expected to be up and running in less than a week. The riverbank washroom will open sometime in June.

Councillors didn't spend much time deliberating over administration’s recommendations. Instead, they asked plenty of questions about meeting the need of the community and exploring potential options of adding more accessibility in the winter.

"I think we collectively will all benefit by doing the right thing, Ward 6 Coun. Cynthia Block said. "This isn't going away and we need to find more permanent solutions going forward." 

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