COVID-19 pandemic amplifying need for public washrooms in Vancouver

News 1130, July 15, 2020
Miranda Fatur

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.

The COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying the need for public washrooms in Vancouver.

Charles Gauthier is with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association says it’s a basic need that the city should be able to fulfill for everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

“I’ve found myself in those situations. We all want dignity in relieving ourselves, no one wants to go in the bushes,” he says. “So, we need to do a better job of providing a basic necessity.”

There are several automated public toilets spread across the city, but according to Gauthier, it’s still not enough.

“We’ve suggested they need to make these public automated toilets more available because they close them at some time to prevent overdoses,” he says. “So, we recommended them having them manned with peer groups in case of overdoses.”

When it comes to finding a restroom to use, it can be a difficult task as businesses limit who comes in and community centers stuck closed due to the pandemic.

Park washrooms have stayed open during the pandemic but Gauthier says the problem started well before the pandemic.

“It’s been an issue before COVID, but it’s amplified now. We see more homeless people now, and they don’t have access to the traditional places they would usually go.”

In May the city partnered with several organizations to install three temporary washroom trailers in the Downtown Eastside. One of these facilities is at Wish Drop-In, a society that supports women involved in street-based sex work.

Mebrat Beyene is with Wish Society.

“It’s something we’ve always needed, so as soon as restrictions went in place, safe spaces for women to be, and to access sanitation was just gone. what COVID has done is shown us all the gaps we had before the pandemic,” she says.

Three city-run community centres partially reopened Wednesday, with drop-in space and increased washroom access.

While it’s a step in the right direction Beyene says she hopes the new washroom trailers become part of the new normal.

“You’ve got sex workers dependant on McDonald’s, and 7-11 which is not sustainable. So continuing to do these kinds of facilities operating by a service provider, really makes a lot of sense,” she says. “It’s a trusted group of outreach workers, so that was a need before, and it’ll continue to be a need after COVID. Our hope for sure is we don’t return to the previous normal.”