January 26, 2021

The Wallflower Diner’s Winning Strategy & Why Public Washrooms are Not Band-Aids

During the start of the Covid pandemic, bus drivers had a particularly hard time finding places to use washrooms. When the shutdown commenced last March, there was still not a lot of information out about the Covid-19 virus, and many businesses were hesitant to allow the use of their washrooms by people other than their own customers.

Saramaya Jasaitis sends this article about the Wallflower Diner at 2420 Main Street who right from the start invited bus drivers and others that needed to go to use their facilities.

Owners  Heather Szilagyi and Eric Neilson opened up their washroom early in the pandemic, as Miranda Fatur reports in CityNews.

These are the kind of business people we all need to support, in that they directly realized the challenge of lack of washrooms for the most vulnerable of residents. “People are already marginalized, and we don’t want to contribute to marginalizing [people] even further.”

It’s not easy to open up your washroom facilities in a restaurant, and the Covid protocols require a lot of extra maintenance in those areas. I have over the last several years written about the fact that this city does not provide public washrooms anywhere in urban places where it would just make sense for people in the downtown who are seniors, who are vulnerable, who have children, or just plainly need to use the facilities.

As covered in the Vancouver Sun, five years ago  Vancouver councillor Elizabeth Ball put forward a motion, inspired by the  Vancouver’s Seniors Advisory Committee for public washrooms, which stated: “Access to public toilets is a basic human need and is a critical feature of any age-friendly city.”
As noted in the motion, public toilets help older adults and those with medical issues feel comfortable going out to run errands, exercise and socialize, “thus encouraging healthy, active aging”.  

Public washrooms also assist people to use transit if there are facilities at the transit stations. But somehow providing public washrooms as an amenity was something not valued by this city, and while there may be over 90 washrooms in public parks, those are NOT in downtown urban areas or places that people frequent for accessing shops and services.

It is certainly not helpful for a current City Council member to state to CityNews “The lack of washrooms, and defecation on streets, points to the biggest issues like housing. So washrooms are just band-aiding the issue.”

That is absolute nonsense.

Everybody needs to go, and that attitude from an elected representative  just separates people that have a domicile close by with a private washroom to go to from people that do not. It is a human rights issue, a basic tenet of city building to provide for the comfort and convenience of all citizens, and publicly accessible washrooms are vital.

It is more than equity, it is common sense that if you want people to frequent streets and businesses, you need to provide them with public washroom facilities that are clean, staffed and open.

Andre Picard the Globe and Mail’s Health journalist says that public washrooms should be called “essential infrastructure”.  If  building and maintaining roads for vehicles is an “unquestionable necessity and a legitimate expense” how can public washrooms be deemed a superfluous luxury? “The answer is not to refuse to build public washrooms; it is value and maintain them as any other public infrastructure”.

I have already received comments from my article written earlier this week that identified a way for the City of Vancouver to pay for public washrooms by consolidating some of this City Council’s new hires. One business leader disclosed that he was embarrassed by the city’s lack of basic public washrooms and pointed out that the best place for ample and accessible washrooms was Pacific Spirit Park~which is managed by Metro Vancouver, and outside the  City of Vancouver’s jurisdiction.

We need to do better for all citizens of Vancouver and insist that public washrooms be installed as needed amenities along transit routes and in commercial areas. Temporary facilities that are staffed are a good way to start in pandemic times.

We all lose out by not insisting on the necessity of public washroom facilities. The only band-aiding that is happening is with this City Council not recognizing the basic human right of everyone to clean convenient public washroom facilities. Stop deflecting the blame and do  the right thing for all of us.



Image: TripAdvisor

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  1. Thanks Sandy for bringing up an issue of public health.
    Why can’t the lack of public facilities in Vancouver be addressed under the Health Act of B.C.?
    The proactive strategy would be to illustrate the need, write the plan and work to implement it through the appropriate health authority having jurisdiction. Anybody can get this started.

    [SBC 2008] CHAPTER 28
    Part 2 — Public Health Planning and Reporting
    Division 1 — Making Public Health Plans
    Minister may require public health plans
    (1) To promote and protect health and well-being, the minister may by order require a public body to make, in respect of a specific issue or geographic area, a public health plan.

    (2) The minister may specify one or more of the following as the purposes of the public health plan:

    (a) to identify and address the health needs of particular groups within the population, including aboriginal peoples;

    (b) to monitor and assess the status of the health of the population, including through public health surveillance and monitoring indicators of, or factors influencing, the health of the population;

    (c) to prevent and mitigate the adverse effects of diseases and disabilities, syndromes, psychosocial disorders, injuries and health hazards;

    (d) to identify, prevent and mitigate the adverse effects of health impediments;

    (e) to facilitate or plan for the delivery of core public health functions;

    (f) to achieve a prescribed purpose.

  2. There’s a certain amount of dignity that people loose without access to washrooms. The Portland Loo is a great longer term piece of infrastructure to provide that dignity, due to its durability, and ability to balance privacy with the need to not provide so much privacy that people are doing sketchy things in the piece of infrastructure. I wonder how hamstrung the City is by contracts to with current “street furniture” providers? In any case, at the very least, large numbers of temporary facilities spread throughout the city with high frequency maintenance is the very minimum is an important thing the City could be doing at the moment so people in general don’t have to rely on the kindness of the good businesses or push the necessity to clean those facilities to those businesses.

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