Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside at risk of losing 2 bathrooms due to lack of funding

Due to a lack of city funding two public bathrooms in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are at risk of closing. Cecilia Hua reports.

Two public bathrooms in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are at risk of closing because of a lack of city funding.

The City of Vancouver says it’s working to help keep the bathrooms at 144 East Hastings Avenue and Pigeon Park open.

In a written statement to CityNews, the city says its staff is working to “confirm next steps” to secure funding for the operations of both bathrooms.

The facilities are currently funded through BC Housing and a Union of BC Municipalities grant. But that funding is due to run out this month.

The promise comes amid growing concern about what a closure could mean for the unhoused community.

The city says the Hastings Street bathroom costs $34,000 per month to operate and the Pigeon Park toilet costs $27,000 per month.

Harm Reduction and Recovery Expert Guy Felicella tells CityNews that it is “dehumanizing” to not have these bathrooms.

He says, businesses won’t allow the public, especially people who use substances to access their bathrooms unless they have purchased something in-store.

“I’ve experienced many negative comments from people… or maybe they had a bad experience with another person,” he said. “But that shouldn’t stop people from having access to those bathrooms.”

He says there have never been enough washrooms to meet the demand of the vulnerable population in the area, to begin with.

“I just think it’s a basic human right,” Felicella said. “We need to stop blaming the individuals that are struggling and start putting the blame back to where it belongs, which is on the city to fund these bathrooms in that community.”

Felicella says, from his own experience, he remembers feeling dehumanized when he had to go to the bathroom on the streets, while not having toilet paper.

“It’s really sad how we look at people who are struggling,” he said. “We should be putting more supportive services because they don’t have a home.”

General Manager for Overdose Prevention Society Amy Evans tells CityNews that these washrooms are crucial not only for the unhoused people in the area but also for tourists who visit.

“Everybody has a biological human need to use the washroom and they need a safe, clean and dignified place,” she said.

Evans says she has seen what used to happen before these bathrooms were made available.

“People, when they have to go to the bathroom, and there’s nowhere to do it, they do it where they are,” she said. “That creates diseases.”

She says if these bathrooms are not available it puts a burden on the individual businesses and individual building owners to pick up the mess.

These bathrooms were first introduced during the pandemic. Evans says they have demonstrated incredible success in the community, which means without them the community will see a lot of problems.

“There’s going to be waste everywhere,” Evans said.

She says the great thing about these bathroom programs is that there are attendants who work full-time to keep them clean.

“The bathrooms get cleaned every single time that they’re used because it helps prevent disease and it gives everybody a really clean and dignified to do what they need to do,” Evans said. “We have these attendants do the cleaning, but they also do other things, like monitor for overdose, which is so important.”

She says the city doesn’t see the importance, but she does.

“The people of Downtown Eastside don’t want to have to go to the bathroom on the sidewalks or the alleys,” she said.

The City of Vancouver says it has supported the implementation and administration of the funding, but given the temporary nature of the funding of these two bathrooms, it has been seeking funding from senior government to extend the usage.

It says “A funding source to extend them has not yet been identified.”

-With files from Cecilia Hua, and Michael Williams.

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