A new way to tackle the vandalism issue in Penticton’s public washrooms has caught the attention of city council.
Councillors were intrigued by the idea of installing a public washroom facility that is manned by a community support worker, similar to what is already in place at one Kelowna location.
Dhorea Ramanula, executive director of Paid Employment for People with Lived Experiences (PEOPLE) pitched the public washroom idea and shared stories of the project’s success in Kelowna at Tuesday’s (Jan. 19) council meeting.
PEOPLE is a social enterprise that assists those facing issues like homelessness and substance misuse in finding employment.
The washrooms in Kelowna were built using re-purposed shipping containers and are staffed with support workers seven-days-a-week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Many of the employees themselves have faced lived experience with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues, explained Ramanula.
The staff “or peer-navigators” are employed on-site to not only ensure cleanliness and deter vandalism but also to provide a safe-space and provide outreach services to people in need of them.
Since opening the washrooms in April, the Kelowna location has seen over 19,000 visitors, handed out numerous bottles of water and naloxone kits and provided an average of 60 phone calls per day for people who have no other way to contact their families. PEOPLE has also referred people to numerous shelters and treatment centres.
“What we find is that if you get your needs met, then there’s less criminality and other things going on,” Ramanula said. “The fact that peers are sitting there and you can reach out to someone who has had a similar experience… that dials down stigma, it dials down barriers, folks get their needs met and we, as a community, we all win.”
The facilities in Kelowna consist of two stalls in a six-metre steel shipping container, located in downtown Kelowna.
The City of Kelowna has been supportive of the project and provided continued funding. The facility, adjacent to the Queensway transit exchange in downtown Kelowna, also serves as an information kiosk for tourists and a public phone charging station.
Public washrooms are a “particularly sensitive area” in Penticton, said coun. Judy Sentes as they are vandalized frequently, forcing them to close.
“The vandalism is horrific and it results in them being closed which is a tragedy for everyone,” said Sentes.
Sentes continued to say the city has looked into different way to keep the washrooms open and safe but the cost of doing so has prohibited them from doing so.
Ramanula said because of the work her organizations does at the washrooms they have yet to face any issues with vandalism.
Penticton councillors were overall very interested in setting up a similar facility in Penticton and directed staff to have further conversations with Ramanula.