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Hyack Square toilet to offer 'dignity and safety' to vulnerable residents

New West will build a freestanding toilet in Hyack Square in 2023 as part of its downtown livability strategy.
A 24/7, staffed public toilet is now open at the former Army & Navy store until a permanent facility opens in Hyack Square later this year. photo Theresa McManus

A new toilet in downtown New Westminster will be built in Hyack Square this fall.

On Monday, council supported the city’s 2023 to 2027 financial plan. One of the items in this year’s budget is a freestanding public toilet in Hyack Square.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said the downtown “is stressed” so he supports funding in the budget for downtown initiatives, including an expansion to Westminster Pier Park, a Fourth Street featured stairway and public realm initiative and a freestanding, public washroom. He believes the toilet will be enhance the downtown’s cleanliness.

“There’s a human rights issue and also a livability issue,” he said. “And there’s also a community impact issue and it’s important.”

Elliot Rossiter, a Moody Park resident, a faculty member at Douglas College and a member of the city’s community poverty reduction committee, said public spending on public goods and services becomes more important during inflationary times, as reduced expenditures on those things harms those who have the lowest incomes.

“The library does excellent work in terms of supporting people with low incomes,” he told council Monday. “I’m thinking about having a public washroom space that’s dignified and accessible for people who may be unhoused or unsheltered. I think the spending on these things are very important.”

Jack Makolewski, a New West resident who teaches at the UBC School of Social Work, supported a number of items in the budget, including the toilet.

“I wanted to really celebrate the construction of permanent freestanding toilets in our community, something that I really hope we can continue to expand,” he said. “I think that it offers a level of dignity and safety to some of our most vulnerable residents. But I also think it starts to address some of the concerns of the businesses as well.”

Coun. Daniel Fointaine said he’s looking forward to receiving a staff report he requested about the impacts on the city of downloaded programs and services from federal and provincial governments.

“I hear about a $650,000 toilet and two attendants for that toilet,” he said at Monday’s meeting. “Those funds should not be coming from the city, they should be coming from the province of British Columbia … it’s their role and their mandate to make sure that they fund these types of activities.”

The city’s budget includes funding for a number of initiatives designed to address concerns about downtown livability, including a livability coordinator, a senior development planner, street-cleaning services, and the public toilet.

Why provide a toilet?

In October 2021, New West city council endorsed the downtown livability strategy, which recommended immediate- and short-term actions on several fronts: improved general cleanliness and enhanced access to 24/7 public toilets; enhanced homeless outreach and added emergency shelter capacity; opioid epidemic and illicit drug response; business support and engagement; and mental health response and support.

Lisa Leblanc, the city’s director of engineering, discussed the freestanding toilet at a capital budget workshop in February.

“We selected the location for installation of the toilet; it’ll be in Hyack Square. The exact location remains to be determined as part of the detailed design work,” she said. “We’ve also selected a preferred vendor for the prefabricated toilet through a fairly involved procurement process. We’ve identified the unit that we’ll be purchasing. … That unit has been installed in a number of communities throughout the province.”

In a recent email to the Record, Leblanc said the city is working to have the toilet operational by fall, around mid-November 2023.

In December, received an update on the downtown livability strategy and directed to submit funding requests as part of that strategy to the 2023 budget process. Staff told council implementation of all of the items in the strategy were estimated at about $4.4 million, including $1.627 million for improved general cleanliness and enhanced access to 24/7 public toilets; $0.830 million of enhanced homeless outreach and added emergency shelter capacity; and $0.110 million for business support and engagement.

Leblanc told council the $650,000 budget for the toilet includes the cost of the unit (which is a couple of hundred thousand dollars) and installation of the facility into the public realm, including connections to city services for water, sewer and electrical.

“There’s some significant capital associated with installing it in the public realm,” she noted. “There’s some project management costs included in there as well. So the $650,000 is comprehensive.”

In addition, the city will be hiring staff to oversee the facility.

“There would be an additional staff member hired to support the new public toilet in Hyack Square,” Leblanc said. “That person would also be supporting increased service at other toilets that exist in parks and other locations throughout the city as well.”

Why Hyack Square?

Jen Arbo, the city’s economic development coordinator, said staff considered about five locations for the toilet, taking into account a number of issues, including location, city-owned properties, accessibility, technical requirements and potential usability. Ultimately, she said, the Hyack Square location came out on top.

“We wanted a toilet location that would service not only vulnerable or street-entrenched people, but also people who are commuting or shopping or are out and about,” she said. “So it made a lot of sense, as well, to put it there.”

In January, the city installed a 24/7, staffed public toilet on Front Street. Located in the parking lot of the former Army and Navy Department Store, it’s intended to be an interim service until a permanent 24-hour public washroom facility is constructed in Hyack Square.