Despite new public washroom, downtown Vernon still dealing with defecation issues | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Despite new public washroom, downtown Vernon still dealing with defecation issues

The new loo in downtown Vernon.
October 16, 2019 - 11:22 AM

The problem of people defecating on the doorsteps and alleyways in downtown Vernon seems no closer to being resolved, even after council spent more than $100,000 on a new public washroom.

The new downtown washroom's 8 p.m. closing time appeared to be a surprise to councillors who questioned the logic of closing the toilet so early.

"I thought the whole point of having a public washroom was people were defecating in business owners properties at night," Councillor Dalvir Nahal told council at it's Oct. 16 meeting.

City staff replied saying the operating times were in a test period, but there were concerns the washroom could be "taken over" at night time.

Nahal seemed unimpressed with the logic.

"It does defeat the purpose of having it then, does it not?" she asked.

"I don't think it was ever our intention to keep it open 24/7 when it was brought to council initially," director of operation services Shirley Koenig told the meeting.

"With respect, this was initiated in the Activate Safety Council specifically designed to stop people defecating in doorways during the evening hours," Councillor Scott Anderson replied.

Coun. Anderson pointed out there was no public demand from downtown shoppers for a washroom.

Councillor Kelly Fehr agreed.

"My recollection is, to provide a place for people who don't have a bathroom to go to the bathroom," Coun. Fehr said.

The issue of city staff seemingly ignoring direction from councillors isn't new. In August, council passed a third resolution asking for a quote for the costs involved in hiring private security guards, after earlier requests didn't materialize.

The new $110,000 washroom, which came in $50,000 under budget, opened early October near the intersection 30 Avenue and 35 Street.

However, the new washroom does not appear to be having the effect council hoped it would - possibly because of its location.

The opening of the new loo meant temporary porta-potties situated by Linear Park were removed, putting pressure on the adjacent People Place building when street entrenched people needed to use the bathroom.

In a letter to council, People Place general manager Elaine Collison asks for the porta-potties to be returned.

"Now, we are experiencing the same issues as before, with constant requests from those who are spending their days on Linear Park, asking to use our washrooms," Collison says in the letter.

The letter says people who want to use the washroom have to leave their bags at the front counter and are told they will be checked on in five minutes. If they don't comply they'll be barred from using it again.

"The problem is, if we refuse to let them use our facilities, they simply go outside and urinate/defecate against the building," the letter reads. "We have picked up bucket loads of feces and quite frankly, we cannot continue to do this."

Councillor Brian Quiring put forward a motion to keep the porta-potties open until Dec. 15, when the cold weather stops them from being functional.

"If there is no issue with it, I'm not against bringing back these bathrooms, the ones that we have built are way across the (city)," Coun. Anderson said.

Council agreed to keep one porta-potty at the site, providing the toilet hadn't created further issues.

However, an issue did arise when staff reported the original contractor would not renew the contract, but another had been found at the cost of $1,400 a month.

"Our first supplier removed the facility because there were issues in the supplier's ability to service the porta-potties," chief administrative officer Will Pearce told council.

When pushed for an answer as to what those issues were, staff said drivers had been threatened with needles.

"Well, that puts a new face on it then," Coun. Anderson said. "I'm going to change my vote on this."

Ultimately the vote to keep to keep the porta-potty was defeated with councillors Anderson and Nahal along with Akbal Mund, Kari Gares voting against it.

While city staff said they'd look into opening the downtown toilet 24/7, Coun. Quiring suggested the washroom at least stay open until bylaw officers finished work at 11 p.m. and then 10 p.m. throughout the winter. Staff is due to report back with a cost proposal.

The City's bylaw department is also due to report back to council regarding issues at the site where the porta-potties once were.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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