Manitoba

Portable toilets, wash stations made available for Winnipeg's homeless during pandemic

Community organizations are keeping their doors open and creating new places for Winnipeg's homeless population to use the toilet and wash up. 

Community organizations step up to fill gaps created by coronavirus-related closures

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, the executive director of 1JustCity, says basic hand-washing is something many people take for granted. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Community organizations are keeping their doors open and creating new places for Winnipeg's homeless population to use the washroom and wash up during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The closure of libraries, community centres and other public spaces has left many homeless people in Winnipeg with fewer washroom options than ever. 

That's why local emergency shelter and food bank 1JustCity has put in a new portable washroom outside their Crossways in Common location on Broadway at Furby Street.

"I think it's just something that we all take for granted and there's over 1,500 people in our city who can't do that," said Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, executive director of 1JustCity. 

Resource Assistance for Youth, another group that works with people experiencing homelessness, has also installed a portable washroom outside its location on Sherbrook Street for the community it serves.

Resource Assistance for Youth has installed a portable toilet outside its Sherbrook Street location. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

While portable washrooms can provide a temporary solution to the closure of public facilities, they don't provide an area for Winnipeg's vulnerable to access fresh water to wash their hands. 

In response to the lack of public hand-washing stations, the West Central Women's Resource Centre has created a COVID-19 plan that includes access to showers and an area to wash hands for women. 

"We didn't want to be a door that closed on them during this critical time," said Lorie English, the centre's executive director. 

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While the resource centre, like many other community organizations, has suspended its regular programming, it is still offering take-away lunches and access to hygiene facilities.  

As part of its COVID-19 response plan, the centre performs screenings before allowing anyone into the building. 

Like many other organizations, the centre is also limiting the number of people who enter, in order to maintain safe physical distancing.

Other community organizations in the downtown that are keeping their washroom facilities open include the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Access Downtown centre on Main Street, Klinic, Sscope Inc. and the Spence Neighbourhood Association's West End 24 safe space in the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre on Langside Street.

Many outreach organizations in the downtown area are also providing homeless people in Winnipeg with hand sanitizer.

Lucille Bruce, the CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg, says the priority for the organization's emergency response team is getting Winnipeg's homeless population into homes with access to running water, washrooms and the ability to practise safe physical distancing. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"[Homeless people's] risk factor is very high because many of them have pre-[existing] health conditions and disabilities that they struggle with," said Lucille Bruce, the CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg, which has been spearheading the COVID-19 response team for homeless people in the city. 

Working with the city and province, the team is encouraging portable washrooms and access to hand-washing for homeless people. 

However, their main priority is getting people off the streets and into safe spaces with access to proper hygiene and the ability to practise physical distancing.

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