After a heated discussion, Prince George city council has chosen an option to pursue to relieve the issue surrounding the lack of public washrooms in the downtown core.
City Manager of Social Planning Chris Bone presented council with a report that highlighted the complexities of the issue and asked council to select one of four options for staff to pursue.
Bone and many members of council expressed that none of the four options were ideal, but they ultimately focused on the second option, which is to enhance access to washrooms with selected downtown social service providers by providing funding to enable dedicated monitoring services.
“This is a really tough topic and I think if I was able to pull some themes from all the information I just provided you it would be that providing access to public washrooms for everybody that needs to access them and ensuring they are clean and safe is challenging,” said Bone, after going through the report.
Council also identified the conversation about safety and security in providing public bathrooms was centred around the city’s most vulnerable population and those affected by the opioid crisis.
“I might add that my research has shown that no community has figured out how to do this effectively and that some of the communities that were seen to be ahead of the curve are basically having to re-think initial solutions because we are working in a very different world now.”
While none of the four options presented an ideal solution, Coun. Cori Ramsay, who first brought the issue to council’s table back at the April 29 meeting, said it was important council choose one of the options at hand.
“This issue has come up so many times in our community, and there is not one answer that will solve this problem but it to me is still a need in our community and we have four options in front of us tonight that will help relieve some pressure on those organizations that are significantly burdened by providing services,” said Ramsay.The Prince George Public Library is the only location in downtown Prince George that provides a public washroom to anyone who needs it.
In her report, Bone highlighted the investment the library has needed to make in order to maintain cleanliness and safety for all users. In 2015, the library’s security costs were $55,476, but in 2019, security costs are budgeted at $155,520.
A recent tally of washroom use, on a slow day, revealed between 21-43 people using the washrooms per hour, with 14 per cent accessing the building for the sole purpose of using the washroom.
The number of security incidents increased from 59 in 2015 to 144 in 2018.
“To me, we have options in front of us, yes they are not ideal, but they are an attempt to resolve a significant issue in our community,” added Ramsay.
As discussion went underway, Coun. Brian Skakun, was the first councillor to express support for the second option.
“What I would like to see, is that we recommend administration to do more consultation with the service providers downtown and see if we can get a buy-in and what it would cost to the city because the other options to me are really nothing to solve the problem,” said Skakun.
“We might not get washrooms downtown this year, but if we do the best job we can and consult with the social service agencies downtown we might get somewhere.”
Coun. Terri McConnachie was in agreement.
“It just seems like the natural thing to do to partner with the organizations that are already working with this type of population,” said McConnachie. “Even though there is no answer to do nothing is to have nothing happen and have no.”
Option two would see the city consult with recommended social services like Saint Vincent de Paul, Positive Living North (Fire Pit), and AWAC to enhance washroom access by providing funding to enable dedicated monitoring services.
After council unanimously voted to approve this option, it will now go back to city staff who will do the consultation work with the social services organizations.
City Manager Kathleen Soltis said that once that work is completed a report will come back to council that includes with what the plan looks like, who is involved, and the cost and time frame.
You can read the city’s full report on Downtown Public Washroom Access online.