City of Winnipeg cuts Amoowigamig’s hours

Budget constraints impact the downtown public washroom

Only nine months since its opening, the City of Winnipeg is cutting the hours to the Amoowigamig public washrooms. (Photo by Isaiah Sanchez)

Due to budget constraints, the City of Winnipeg is cutting the hours of operation for Amoowigamig, the only dedicated public washroom space run by the City. Starting on May 16, the washroom will be open seven days a week for eight hours a day instead of 10.

Since opening on June 3, 2022, Amoowigamig has been used more than 20,000 times.

Trevor Lambert, a community member, has frequently relied on the washroom and was surprised by the quality of the space when it first opened.

“When it was being built, I was thinking people were going to camp out there and just wreck it, but there’s well-trained staff there,” Lambert says. “They have a good deal of understanding of what it’s like to be on the street.”

This positive impact is linked to the city’s partnership with community organization Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, which operates the facility and provides peer-support services and harm-reduction supplies.

Discussions for a permanent public washroom began in June 2020. This specific project was funded by the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations, which supports people experiencing houselessness, and Circle of Life Thunderbird House, an Indigenous community centre.

The total cost for the washroom was $874,489, with an annual, City-set budget of $200,000. However, according to a City report, the facility’s operating costs have exceeded this budget.

Coun. John Orlikow, who chairs the standing policy committee on community services, says the City would’ve kept the hours open longer, but the budget ran out for the pilot project.

“It’s always easy to spend the money, but where do we find the money is the problem,” he says. “The fact that the program was so successful will help in trying to find funding for it.” Orlikow also says the City needs to look at “finding partners with some existing infrastructure.”

Jamil Mahmood, the executive director of community organization Main Street Project, says the washroom’s reduced hours show how the municipal government isn’t prioritizing Winnipeggers’ basic needs.

“It’s very clear that the City isn’t making the investment in community and public services that we need to be. We’re a major city in Canada, and to think we don’t have one 24-hour staffed washroom in the core of our city is mind-boggling,” he says.

While Main Street Project has washrooms available, Mahmood says their space is often full, and individuals have to go through the shelter intake process to access the washrooms.

“Why should you have to go through a shelter intake to access a washroom when there’s a public washroom right there?” he says.

Besides Amoowigamig, the only other City-run washroom facilities are four temporary portable toilets. Lambert says the lack of accessibility makes the task of going to the washroom difficult.

“I don’t like going to the bathroom. I hold (it) for as long as possible, because there’s not many places to go, and then finally I’m in crisis mode,” he says. “I wish the washroom was open for 24 hours.”

Funding for Amoowigamig will end on Dec. 31. City council will vote on increasing funding and hours or maintaining the current model.

Published in Volume 77, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 16, 2023)

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