January 25, 2021

Why Can’t We Just Have Public Washrooms in Vancouver?

It is one of the most frustrating things about this pandemic~everything might be closed down and activities discouraged, but there are basic things you need to do. I had an appointment and stopped  at Broadway and Granville Streets to use a washroom. I went to order in the Starbucks on Granville Street and asked to use the washroom only to find that while Starbucks will make the coffee and you can drink it, there’s no washroom available due to Covid.

For many people and for children drinking liquids without access to a washroom is like writing on a blackboard without chalk. It cannot be done. There are times you just need the use of public washroom facilities. I could not find a washroom to use anywhere. I did have a gift certificate for a merchant on the street, and while I was first refused access to the store’s washroom (which was taped off and closed)  that was provided once no other alternative was known and I told them I  had a credit in the store.

This was my first time having to negotiate to use a  washroom in Vancouver. Why is that even necessary?

I  don’t think that the merchants of this city should be required to provide washroom facilities without support from the City. There is no support, other than a vague promise from the City that some mobile washroom facilities would be available for the  dire need in the downtown eastside. No timeline, no locations given.

Council’s response and ignoring the need for basic washroom facilities in business areas is  just not good enough.

While the City has ignored the need for safe sanitary portable washrooms in business areas and in downtown they appear to have accessed funding for other items.

This City Council  voted  two months ago to have an auditor general set up to scrutinize internal processes and evaluate program effectiveness at a cost of two million dollars annually. Last week City Council considered adding an ethics commissioner at an annual cost of $200,000. That job was  to develop separate Codes of Ethics for staff and for City Councillors and Committees (there already is one for both).

The previous City Manager has pointed out that there already  was an internal auditor function and hiring the two million dollar auditor general would duplicate some existing positions. You would think Council could shoehorn in the ethics commissioner into the two million dollar annual outlay for the new Auditor General and pony up some money for something of a much more immediate need: Public Washrooms. Portable ones. That could be placed for citizens use now.

Why is Council busy looking at its own processes and fine tuning themselves when there is no where for citizens to do their business in the streets?

I have written over and over again why we need public washrooms, and accessible clean washrooms in Covid times. It is not only a public health issue it is a human right.

It was  Paola Lorrigio in The Star who bluntly points out that the dearth of  public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone.

Lezlie Lowe who wrote “No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs” observes that there’s no Canadian tradition for on-street, accessible, paid for by municipal government bathroom provision.

That’s simply left up to private businesses, and that’s no solution. In a city with a Covid pandemic and a homeless population with  many people on the street afflicted  with mental illness, assuming that struggling businesses have the acumen to provide washroom facilities to everyone  is just wrong headed.

It’s time for the City of Vancouver to step up.

Because everyone at some time needs to go.





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  1. I don’t know why the city doesn’t just contract a bunch of porta-potties- they work, they get serviced, they’re required by the city for construction sites…

    Maybe supplement them with simple privacy-and-drain structures for those who pee standing up.

    I think part of the problem is wanting to have a perfect, beautifully-designed expensive solution.

      1. Yes, the porta loos near Science World and Creekside Community Centre were heavily vandalised in the summer – some individuals seem to enjoy melting the plastic and covering them with graffiti.

        Kudos to the Park Board for maintaining and keeping open the washroom structures in most parks.

        1. Seems bizarre that we can’t use porta-potties because we accept arson and vandalism as a given.
          Putting up with arson and vandalism is a choice.

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