Winnipeg's homeless need public washroom: architect

An architect with offices on Winnipeg's Main Street is offering to help the city build public washrooms in the area to curb public urination.

An architect with offices on Winnipeg's Main Street is offering to help the city build public washrooms in the area to curb public urination.

Many homeless people in Winnipeg live or spend time in the area of a few blocks of Main Street near Higgins Avenue.

There are no public washrooms on the strip, and homeless people say local businesses often won't let them use their toilets.

"It's hard," said Charlotte Huntinghawk, who calls an alley off Main Street home.

"People have to go pee in the back lane," she told CBC News. "We call this one place piss-ass corner— right over at the Salvation Army— because that's where everyone pisses."

Architect Wins Bridgman recently moved his firm to a renovated building at the corner of Higgins and Main, one of several businesses moving into theExchange District neighbourhood.

Bridgmanhasnoticed the smell of urine in the area, and said the area needs public washrooms for those who don't have their own.

He thinks a piece of city-owned land on the northwest corner of Higgins and Main would be the right place for it, and he's sending the mayor a letter offering his architectural services for free.

"We have all the kinds of trappings of those things that show a revitalized area, but if you walk down the street and smell urine, it's a sure indicator that something's not working," he said.

"Let's see if we can really help the community. Let's get washrooms available for people. It's an issue of dignity. People need to be able to go to the washroom. It's as simple as that. And in a thriving community, you take care of those simple needs."

The need for a public washroom outweighs the risks that might be posed bypeopleseeking shelter in the space,he said.

"There needs to be a good monitoring system.It needs to be kept up well," Bridgman added.

Vancouver toilets time-limiting, self-cleaning

Winnipeg's lastexperience with public washrooms came to an end in the summer of 2006,when a small buildingin Memorial Park, across from the legislature, was torn down after three decades of controversy over its use by transients and drug users.

But those problems might be avoided with new technology already in use in two public toilets in Vancouver.

Grant Wolf, the city's streets administrator, said thetoilets have a built-in deterrent for users overstaying their welcome.

"There is a time limit on the toilets. They're set for 12 minutes, so that if you are in there at 10 minutes, there will be siren come on inside and a warning that the doors will open. At 12 minutes, the doors will open and then, of course, people from outside can see inside, and so on," he explained.

The toilets are also self-cleaning, he said.

"After each use, the bowl and seat is washed, sanitized, dried, and the floor is also sprayed and any debris and so on washed off to one side of the floor and off the floor."

Some of the funding to pay for the facilities comes from local business advertising, Wolf said.