Advocates say Saskatoon's most vulnerable are suffering without public washrooms

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many homeless people deprived of some of the most basic necessities of life, say people who work in the sector.

City has reopened three washrooms so far, advocates say more needed

Advocates say homeless people have been denied bathroom services for months during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many homeless people deprived of some of the most basic necessities of life, say people who work in the sector.

While people can usually find a place to use the washroom and clean themselves at drop-in centres, those facilities have been closed for months due to the pandemic.

"It's bordering on a human rights issue, in our opinion," said Colleen Christopherson-Cote, the liaison officer of Saskatoon Inter-Agency Response to COVID19. 

"We flagged it as essential infrastructure need to the City of Saskatoon to talk about what reopening some of the outdoor washrooms could look like as the weather improved."

So far, the city has reopened three of its public washrooms — at River Landing, Gabriel Dumont Park and Rotary Park. A spokesperson said the bathrooms are regularly checked, restocked and cleaned.

The city said it is working to open more bathrooms on a phased approach, while making sure it is following provincial guidelines.

Christopherson-Cote is pushing for a quicker timeline, saying the alternative is not acceptable.

"Outdoor defecation is not [alright]," she said.

"Access to toilets and and potable water are a fundamental human right. And it becomes a bigger public health crisis if people are using the general sort of environment as washing facilities."

Nowhere to go

Meanwhile, one social agency has taken the matter into its own hands.

While its drop-in centre has been closed to the public, AIDS Saskatoon has opened its washroom up to the public.

With funding from the Saskatoon Community Foundation, the organization has paid a cleaner to come in and keep the facility open.

AIDS Saskatoon has opened up a washroom for the general public and has hired a cleaner. (Jason Mercredi/Submitted)

Executive director Jason Mercredi said the washroom sees anywhere from 50 to 100 people daily, with more people arriving as word spreads.

"Dignity goes a long way," he said.

"If you're using the washroom in a back alley, you're not private. There's not a lot of dignity there."

Meanwhile, Christopherson-Cote said she's been talking to private business owners about the situation as more and more stores reopen. 

"We're hopeful that in the immediate future that those washrooms will open and people will be able to get access to them," she said.

"It doesn't take a lot of thought to process where people have been going to the washroom for the last 80-ish days and that is not an OK thing."

With files from Heather Morrison, Saskatoon Morning


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