A new 24-hour staffed toilet is now open in downtown New Westminster.
The public toilet, now open on the east end of front Street in the parking lot of the former Army & Navy department store, is part of the City of New Westminster’s downtown livability strategy. The public toilet is considered an interim solution that helps address the immediate needs of downtown residents and visitors for a 24-hour washroom facility, until a permanent facility is in place in Hyack Square.
“Access to washrooms is a human right, and public washroom facilities are an essential part of a thriving community,” Mayor Patrick Johnstone said in a news release. “The installation of this portable toilet and the planned construction of a permanent facility will fill a desperate need in New Westminster’s downtown area, assure safe access and dignity for all residents, and reduce some of the burden felt by downtown businesses from the lack of public facilities.”
Karima Jivraj, president of the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association, welcomes the facility.
“We have been advocating for more public toilets in the downtown core and we are pleased to see this project moving forward,” she said. “Combined with the city’s biohazard removal program, we believe this will make a more enjoyable experience for businesses, residents, and visitors. We appreciate the city’s continued efforts to address livability in downtown New Westminster.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, downtown residents and businesses have expressed concerns about the increase in feces in public areas. In response to those concerns, the city has contracted a specialized waste removal company to do weekday sweeps in the downtown to remove biohazardous waste from streets, sidewalks, and plantings, as well as alcoves and entryways of local businesses that wish to participate in the service.
In October 2021, city council adopted the downtown livability strategy that includes immediate and short-term actions. While longer term actions are still be considered, areas that the city will be focusing on in the short-term include: Cleanliness and 24-hour public toilets; homeless outreach and added emergency shelter capacity; opioid epidemic and illicit drug response; business support and outreach; and mental health response.
The need for public toilets has been raised many times in recent years during discussions about livability in the downtown neighbourhood.
According to a city press release, funding for the facility came from a combination of grants and existing budgets. Installation and staffing has been made possible through the cooperation of Lower Mainland Purpose Society, which operates Purpose Secondary and a nightly shelter in the building.
Although the public toilet is located near the nightly shelter, it’s open to everyone. In 2020, the Peer Network started a petition urging the city to install publicly accessible washrooms in New Westminster, saying they would help keep city streets clean and provide dignity to people living without homes – and would benefit people who are elderly or have conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
In the downtown, the city has washrooms at Westminster Pier Park, Quayside Park and Anvil Centre (open during operating hours) and at the police station (open 24 hours).
The city states that construction of a permanent 24-hour public washroom is planned to begin in Hyack Square as early as this fall.
“The need for more public washrooms in New Westminster was underscored by the pandemic,” said the news release. “The city is collaborating with UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning on the development of a public washroom strategy that will guide planning for additional public washrooms city-wide.”