Long-awaited public washroom designed for 'dignity and respect' to open in downtown Winnipeg
Closure of libraries, community centres during pandemic highlighted need
In just a couple of weeks people in downtown Winnipeg will have the dignity of access to a safe washroom — a luxury often taken for granted.
After years of calls for public bathroom spaces in central Winnipeg, a ceremonial opening of a new permanent washroom was held Tuesday morning next to Circle of Life Thunderbird House at 715 Main St.
"You take for granted washrooms until you can't find one or you need one," said Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairperson of the standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks.
"Every person deserves the right to safe and clean accessible washrooms and not everyone has that," Rollins said in a news release.
"This project is about providing that vitally important amenity, and it's also about giving dignity and respect to those who will rely on it."
The facility, named Amoowigamig by Elder Charlotte Nolin, will open May 30.
The need for a public washroom was raised several years ago and was highlighted earlier in the pandemic, when the closure of libraries, community centres and other public spaces left many in Winnipeg with fewer washroom options.
A pop-up toilet opened in 2018 by the Downtown BIZ revealed problems with vandalism and theft and showed the need for staffing.
Amoowigamig will be staffed from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to ensure safety, with the goal of eventually opening 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The city has partnered with Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre to staff the site. The not-for-profit community group will also provide harm reduction supplies, fresh water, a place for people to wash their feet and connections to other resources.
"We are honoured to carry this relationship with Circle of Life Thunderbird House and the City of Winnipeg to fill a much-needed gap for our relatives who are living in the area," Melissa Stone, co-ordinator of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, said in a news release.
- Vandalism, fires in temporary toilets show need to staff permanent facility in downtown Winnipeg: report
The washroom — made from recycled shipping containers — was built with safety in mind, Rollins said, with ample lighting and safety-graded glass.
Wins Bridgman, the architect who designed the structure, said the fact the shipping containers that make up the washroom are stacked three high provides potential advertising space to help fund the service in the years to come.
The last city-operated public washroom in downtown Winnipeg shut down in 1979 after funding was cut back and safety concerns were raised.
Bridgman said in order for the project not to fail, as others have in the past, it needs to be approached with dignity and harm reduction in mind.
"Dignity isn't something that occurs only in oneself, it is the community around us that gives us dignity," Bridgman said.
The project cost nearly $875,000, with more than $630,000 provided through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' community response fund for vulnerable populations.
Circle of Life Thunderbird House also contributed through a grant of more than $241,000, funded by the Community Foundations of Canada.