Permanent public washroom for downtown Winnipeg moves step closer with $670K grant

The City of Winnipeg was given the $670,000 grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to open a public washroom to help cope with public health concerns during the pandemic and beyond.

City has until February to install washroom facilities or lose Federation of Canadian Municipalities grant

A pop-up toilet project was piloted in downtown Winnipeg in 2018, and returned last summer. The city now has a $670,000 grant to build a permanent public washroom in the downtown. (Jacqueline Young, Stationpoint Photographic/BridgemanCollaborative Architecture)

People in vulnerable populations in Winnipeg's downtown may have "a place to go" by next spring.

A $670,000 grant to the City of Winnipeg from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (via a donation from the Canadian Medical Association Foundation) could help build one or more public washrooms, to help cope with public health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

The money has already been deposited in the city's bank account and must be spent by February 2021.

Michael Jack, the city's chief corporate services officer, told councillors on the protection and community services committee the money arrived in late June "out of the blue."

"It's the stuff dreams are made of," he said.

Jack was at the committee on Friday presenting a report on the city's downtown public washroom strategy.

That report, titled Places to Go, was originally drafted in 2010. It projected long timelines — perhaps years —  before a permanent public restroom could be built.

Then the money from the municipalities federation arrived.

Coun. Sherri Rollins, chair of the protection and community services committe, says getting the toilets built is critical for public health. (CBC )

The $670,000 grant became part of motion from Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) to use $620,000 of the cash to build at least one public toilet, saying she'd been struck by the health issues that have arisen during the pandemic because of the lack of accessible bathrooms.

"I've had folks in my ward concerned about the feces on their buildings.… We can do better as a city on human dignity with access to proper hygiene," Rollins said.

The fact the city may be on the cusp of building publicly accessible washrooms for the most vulnerable makes Wins Bridgman smile from ear-to-ear.

The architect has operated his practice at the corner of Main Street and Higgins Avenue for more than a decade, and has championed public access to washrooms since he bought the building.

"This is such a wonderful thing, to have public toilets giving dignity to people who are the most vulnerable in our culture," Bridgman told CBC News.

Architect Wins Bridgman says he will offer part of his property to the city to build a permanent public washroom. (CBC)

In 2018, BridgmanCollaborative Architecture worked with the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and Siloam Mission to pilot a pop-up toilet project. The portable public washroom, which could be set up in different areas, returned to the downtown last summer.

Bridgman has a small lot on his property and Main and Higgins that he is willing to donate to the city for the installation of a new public toilet. The space is very close to the Main Street Project, Salvation Army and Siloam Mission.

He believes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to focus on personal hygiene as a public health issue, and says there should be publicly accessible washrooms for everyone to use.

The pandemic, he says, has shown "we are all in this together, we all need to take care of each other. Public toilets is a great place to begin."

Bridgman says he will offer his help to the city and community organizations on the design of the washrooms. To limit violence or medical issues, he believes they should be partially transparent and be supervised and monitored constantly.

There are some significant hurdles to leap if the public toilets are open by the funding agreement's February 2021 deadline, from design to finding the money to cover ongoing operations.

"Huge amount of public dialogue needs to go on," said Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights).

"Huge amount of questions lay open.… No idea about the operational costs. It's just a really good idea that lots of people in the public would like us to do. I can give you a whole list of really good ideas the public would like us to do."

Rollins says she will champion the idea at every stage and won't give up until the facilities are built.