City's downtown public washroom to open 16 hours a day thanks to Winnipeg Foundation grant

The Winnipeg Foundation has approved $225,000 a year for four years, for a total of $900,000, to extend the operating hours and pay for harm reduction supplies at Amoowigamig, the public washroom facility on Main Street near Higgins Avenue.

Annual injection of $225K will fund expansion from current 10 hours a day

A structure made of shipping containers is shown in this photo.
Amoowigamig, the public washroom on Main Street near Higgins Avenue, will be open 16 hours a day starting this summer thanks to funding from the Winnipeg Foundation. (Thomas-Asselin/Radio-Canada)

Winnipeg's lone city-operated downtown public washroom will soon be open longer thanks to nearly a million dollars in new funding.

The Winnipeg Foundation has approved $225,000 a year for four years, for a total of $900,000, to extend the operating hours and pay for harm reduction supplies at Amoowigamig, the public washroom on Main Street near Higgins Avenue.

The facility, which opened one year ago, offers harm reduction supplies and peer supports, provided by staff from the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre.

"Amoowigamig means 'public washroom' in Anishinaabe, and it is more than just a washroom," said Lanna Many Grey Horses, program support manager at Ma Mawi, during a meeting of the community services committee at city hall on Wednesday.

"It is becoming a symbol of resiliency, cultural reclamation and community development."

The funding means the washroom will be open 16 hours per day, starting as soon as Ma Mawi can hire staff, which Many Grey Horses hopes will be this summer.

The City of Winnipeg currently funds operations for 10 hours per day.

Many Grey Horses would like to see the facility open around the clock, but that depends on improvements to the building to ensure safety overnight.

"The bricks and mortar is still the city's building … so we'd have to work with the city, we'd have to work with any potential funder that would help support that," she told reporters.

Options for longer hours

The community services committee received a report on Wednesday which lays out benefits, risks and costs of various options for future operations at Amoowigamig. Possible scenarios include keeping operating hours the same, as well as increasing them to 12, 16 or 24 hours.

The report calls the current model "a remarkable success," with between 3,000 and 5,000 visits per month. In addition to giving people a place to use the bathroom, staff give out harm reduction supplies, feminine products and condoms. 

Staff have also administered the anti-overdose medication Narcan eight times.

The current operating model costs $270,500 a year. A 16-hour operating model is estimated to cost $432,800 a year, and 24-hour service would cost $649,200.

The report also states that Ma Mawi "has indicated strong preference to avoid undue risk by keeping the facility closed between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m." until at least 2026.

On Wednesday, Many Grey Horses said the centre would like to see overnight hours in place before that, as long as the safety improvements are made.

"Security measures would include looking at the layout of the building. Like, if things go sideways, is there a safe place for somebody to retreat to?" she said.

It would also include having CCTV cameras and Wi-Fi in the facility, and ensuring police and paramedics can respond quickly in case of an emergency.

1 'critical' incident

In the year the washroom has been open, Many Grey Horses said there has been one "critical" incident, which she defines as any situation with the potential for injury or harm, or where there was an injury.

"I think what we need to focus on is all the prevention that the staff are doing, because that overshadows the one incident where we had that was a critical incident," she said.

"I don't want to minimize that incident, but I want to say that the staff there are incredible in terms of being aware and doing the de-escalation that they need to do in that circumstance."

Ma Mawi's agreement with the city expires Dec. 31. The funding from the Winnipeg Foundation in future years would depend on the city continuing to pay its share.

"The public washroom is such an essential resource for the community that is in and around Thunderbird House," said Megan Tate, vice-president of community grants at the foundation.

The foundation's most recent strategic plan defined an area of the city where it is committed to increasing the well-being of people, Tate said.

"And the public washroom and Thunderbird House are really at the heart of the care area."

Community services committee chair John Orlikow says he would like the city to move toward 24-hour funding.

"It's been such a huge success," he said told reporters. "I would like to see it open 24/7, but again, we still have to find the funding for that, and we have to deal with the security issues, for sure."


Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to