New West removes ‘nuisance’ Uptown portable washroom

Nuisance behaviours are somewhat responsible for a stench from porta-potties on Belmont Street.

When many facilities and businesses closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of New Westminster provided portable toilets at various locations, with the side-by-side structures including one that was accessible. Some residents have complained about smells emanating from the portable washrooms.

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“Staff are aware of complaints received, particularly at the portable toilet at the Belmont and Sixth Street location,” said Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering. “My understanding, in discussions with staff, is that that facility is maintained on a daily basis. However, it does attract some nuisance activity.”

Lowrie said the city has been advised that the contract supplier who maintains the facilities has been “having difficulty” doing its job because people have been occupying the facilities for prolonged periods of time. He said there had been discussions with the city’s education and enforcement working group about the possibility of moving the facility from that Belmont location because it’s become a “bit of a nuisance.”

John Stark, the city’s supervisor of community planning, said the city is having some maintenance issues as the contractor is unwilling to go into some of the units if there are needles or other hazards.

“There have been some issues regards to sharps, odours, garbage and people occupying the units for long periods of time,” he told council Monday.

While two portable washrooms had been set up side-by-side at various locations, Stark said the plan is to retain the accessible units and remove the others, which will cut the number of units in half.

“That’s to reduce odours,” Stark said.

By Tuesday night, one of the porta-potties on Belmont Street had been removed.

Stark said the city is reviewing the locations of the units to get a better sense of their use.

“We know there has to be a location in the downtown. We are looking at another location in the uptown, which may lead to fewer complaints,” he said. “Around some of the other locations, we are looking to see if those needs are still applicable, particularly now that we have civic facilities open for a period of time and businesses opening up, recognizing that doesn’t address evening hours.”

While the city had received external funding for the portable facilities, Stark said that will no longer be the case.

“That will fall to the city,” he said, “so we do need to kind of look at the cost and looking at where they are needed most.”

In March, the city started setting up portable washroom facilities at various locations to ensure vulnerable populations had access to bathrooms at a time when many businesses had closed – places where folks could normally go to use restroom facilities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many communities noticed a need for public toilets.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peer Network started a petition urging the city to install public washrooms in New Westminster. The petition stated the lack of public restrooms affects people experiencing homelessness and forces them to use alleys, streets and bushes to relieve themselves, so providing porta-potties in certain areas of New Westminster would help keep city streets clean and provide dignity to people living without homes.

“It covers a wide variety of people, not just homeless, not just people with issues,” Rhonda Cummings, chair of the Peer Network, told the Record in February. “Everybody has issues. Going to the bathroom should not be one of them.”

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