Regional council approves 24/7 washroom access at downtown Kitchener encampment
Councillors have approved on a recommendation from staff to provide 24/7 washroom access to people living at the encampment at the corner of Victoria Street and Weber Street.
The recommendation will see the region work with a soup kitchen located across the street, St. Johns Kitchen, to keep washrooms open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The estimated cost of fulltime security and cleaning is $34,000 per month.
“We’re trying to find a way to treat these people with respect but find some kind of balance,” regional chair Karen Redman told CTV News on Wednesday.
Access to washrooms has been one of the most persistent requests from encampment residents and their supporters who have been repeatedly calling on the region to do more to help those living at the camp.
Encampment residents say it’s a basic necessity.
“It’s fairly difficult because you can’t just go walk in anywhere,” Jason, who lives at the site, told CTV News. “City hall is a couple blocks away, you know in the middle of night it’s not convenient to go walk down the street.”
Currently people living at the encampment can use the washrooms and showers at St. Johns Kitchen only until 6 p.m. on weekdays.
“Sometimes people have to borrow someone’s bike to use the washroom, because when you gotta go, you gotta go,” said Jason, another encampment resident.
“They let us have the space they might as well let us have that basic necessity, a washroom and running water, basic necessities should be provided.”
But some businesses in the area don’t agree with the plan.
“We’ve lost clients because they pull in and they see, and they’re like ‘I’m not getting out of my car,’” said Krista Heywood of Pino’s Salon and Medi Spa. “They’ll call in and be like, ‘I might reschedule when you’ve got all that figured out.’”
She’s worried providing basic amenities could encourage the encampment to grow.
“I feel for them, I do,” said Heywood. “Everyone is entitled to that, it’s a basic human right but having that option, I feel like that’s just going to get twice as big.”
The number of tents at the vacant downtown property has been increasing for several months, with dozens now located at the corner of the busy intersection.
The region says, since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a sharp rise in the number of people experiencing homelessness and the amount of encampments across the region.
There are currently 25 known encampments with about 135 people at them in the area.
"There's 16 encampment sites in Kitchener, five in Cambridge, three in Waterloo, numerous in the townships, and the numbers are not going down," said Coun Jim Erb. "With summer getting warmer they're going to increase, so we need to look at these resources to mitigate some of the problems."
Regional adminstration is also recommending a community-based approach as part of the solution to the growing issue.
This includes more funding requests from the provincial and federal governments for mental health supports as well as affordable and supportive housing. The report says that, without these, outreach service won't be possible.
The tent community at the corner of Victoria Street and Weber Street is one of the largest and most visible sites.
While round-the-clock washroom access will provide some immediate relief, it’s expected to be just a temporary measure.
The region says it’s starting construction on a new transit hub in the fall, and when it does, it’ll need everyone off the site.