Winnipeg launches public bathroom project with 3 new temporary facilities

The project, called Places to Go, features three bathroom spaces at 473 Selkirk Ave., 345 Portage Ave. and 26 Osborne St., the city said in a Tuesday news release. Four more are expected to open in the coming days on Martha Street and Furby Street.

1st phase of Places to Go strategy features bathrooms on Selkirk Avenue, Portage Avenue and Osborne Street

In total, seven temporary bathrooms will open in Winnipeg in the coming days, the city says, prior to the opening of permanent facilities next year. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Three new temporary washroom spaces in Winnipeg opened their doors Tuesday as part of a City of Winnipeg project to make it easier to find a bathroom for people experiencing homelessness.

The project, called Places to Go, features three bathroom spaces at 473 Selkirk Ave., 345 Portage Ave. and 26 Osborne St., the city said in a news release.

The locations were chosen in consultation with End Homelessness Winnipeg and other community stakeholders, the release said.

"The Places to Go strategy is about profound human dignity and making sure that Winnipeg's most vulnerable among us have access to basic human rights and necessities," Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairperson of the standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks, said in the release.

Four more temporary bathrooms are expected to open in the coming days, the city said, including three units at 75 Martha St. and one at 222 Furby St. According to the city's website, the bathrooms will be cleaned a minimum of three times per week and toilet paper will be provided.

Winnipeg got $670,000 from the Communtiy Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations grant through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, following a donation by the Canadian Medical Association Foundation. The grant was intended to provide COVID-19-related support for vulnerable people.

The seven temporary bathrooms will cost $50,000 out of that grant, and the remaining $620,000 will go toward building permanent public bathrooms in the downtown area next year.

'More than a washroom'

Access to bathrooms is a human rights issue that is always important, said Wins Bridgman, a director with BridgmanCollaborative Architecture. But its importance has been underscored, he said, by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We understand that we urgently need to provide shelter, areas of quarantine for these people, and places to wash their hands," he said.

In 2018, Bridgman's office worked on a pop-up toilet project with Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and Siloam Mission. The portable public washroom was also set up downtown last summer.

    Bridgman is working with the city to create a permanent public bathroom funded through the same grant as the temporary ones that opened Tuesday.

    The current goal is for that facility to be located near the intersection of Main Street and Henry Avenue, he said, and conversations are underway with Thunderbird House, social agencies and community members.

    "Dignity is the most important thing that we could offer one another," he said. "Having your own washroom, having a place to be clean ... having a place to wash your clothes, having a place to wash your hands and the feet, to go to the washroom in a safe, clean place is one of the things that we need to afford one another, in terms of dignity."

    The pandemic has highlighted the connection between individual health and community health, Bridgman said. Beyond providing a place for people to use the bathroom and wash their hands, Bridgman said the permanent bathroom will offer a safe, clean place for people to take care of themselves, in connection with the community and community organizations.

    "This is more than a washroom," he said. "This is a way of reaching out to everyone and saying, you belong here, and your health and everyone else's health are connected together."

    He sees the creation of the bathroom as a "welcoming gesture," he said, to vulnerable people and all other Winnipeggers too. Through the project, he hopes to change the tone on bathrooms to something celebratory instead of something that should be hidden away.

    "It isn't just the vulnerable population that needs a washroom, a place to wash their hands — we have learned that all of us need this kind of service," he said. "We need this kind of infrastructure, and we need to start with vulnerable populations."