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More public washroom facilities planned for Saskatoon’s Pleasant Hill, Riversdale neighbourhoods

Saskatoon city council will be adding more public washrooms to the Pleasant Hill and Riversdale neighbourhoods soon after discussing options at city hall on Wednesday.

Council heard from community members Wednesday afternoon, outraged by the lack of public facilities for the city’s homeless population.

“I see the problems out there,” Saskatoon resident David Fineday told council on Wednesday. “I see the people walking out there with s—ty pants, ladies walking around out there with blood all over their pants because they can’t have a place to go take care of themselves.”

Fineday said he has been witnessing this in the city for 10 years.

“There should be more washrooms from St. Paul’s to the bank that just closed down to the church across the street, every block,” he said.

The city will be buying a used washroom trailer with contracted staff, moving forward with the pilot project at the Riverbank public washroom and bringing in additional drinking water access.

City administration noted earlier this week that several community partners like Prairie Harm Reduction, Sanctum Care Group, The Salvation Army and the Saskatchewan Health Authority were consulted on how best to approach the lack of public washroom availability.

According to the city, the number of incidents in public washrooms increased by approximately 32 per cent between 2022 and 2023, including times individuals had to be removed from the building and instances involving drug use, vandalism, public intoxication and needing police or medical assistance.

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Seven options were on the table Wednesday and include an unstaffed portable washroom rental; an unstaffed washroom trailer rental; a washroom trailer rental with contracted staff; a purchased washroom trailer with contracted staff; a navigation and support centre that is staffed and offers a washroom, shower and laundry while also offering support for accessing services; a pilot project to have contracted staff for one Riverbank public washroom and additional access to drinking water.

Administration recommended the city buy a washroom trailer with contracted staff, go forward with the pilot project at the Riverbank public washroom and bring in additional drinking water access.

The rationale given by administration was that the demand for public washrooms was so high that a single location for washrooms would get overwhelmed.

The total price tag of these recommended options is estimated at $777,400, with an additional $25,000 set aside for potential damages.

Administration said $100,000 was already available for this project, but suggested the remaining funding come from the capital expenditures reserve.

Prairie Harm Reduction executive director Kayla DeMong said she is “disgusted” by the scale of investment needed for a temporary service.

“I can build a brand-new facility for the amount we are looking at for an interim solution,” she said.

Coun. Hilary Gough said the costs are so high because the washrooms are an emergency investment.

“This is not emerging, it is a full emergency, which makes it costly,” she said.

DeMong said she has been pushing the need for public washrooms with city planners and community members since 2020.

“The city cannot claim to be innovative and forward while we are debating public washrooms,” she said, noting an interim solution cannot be brought forward without also considering a long-term solution.

“It is your responsibility to ensure that life is good for everybody,” DeMong said. “Not just the people who vote, not just the people who can pay our taxes, but everybody who lives here.”

Gordon Taylor from Salvation Army Residential Services said a long-term solution isn’t more washrooms, but rather more shelters.

He also told council his experience operating the St. Mary’s warming centre and other public washrooms hasn’t been smooth, warning them of the extreme costs and time spent on plumbing and washroom repairs.

“It’s a small handful of people that cause the damage and cause the ongoing concerns,” Taylor said.

He noted that providing staffing can be challenging due to safety and the nature of the job responsibilities, saying that while the need is urgent, Salvation Army staff are exhausted and are not offering to operate the new bathrooms.

Coun. Cynthia Block said the situation is a community issue.

“It is unacceptable and wrong to have this continue in the way that it is,” she said. “But it’s also inaccurate to think this is only happening in one area of the city.”

The city said the washroom trailer is expected to be available in about a week’s time. The Riverbank location, once confirmed, could be staffed in June.  

The city also committed to having administration report back on 2025 budget deliberations with proposed ongoing investment for washrooms in the Pleasant Hill and Riversdale area that would be operable 365 days a year.

— with files from Global News’ Brody Langager

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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