Vernon, B.C. city councillors voted to reduce the hours of its three downtown public toilets this week after city staff reported repeated vandalism.
In one particularly damaging incident, a fire was started in one of the bathrooms in early June.
The blaze caused damages that will cost around $25,000 to fix and put the washroom out of commission for one or two months.
The washrooms were installed to keep human waste off the streets and give everyone, including those who don’t have homes, a place to go.
“This type of behaviour is absolutely devastating to those that need the bathrooms,” said councillor Kelly Fehr.
Fehr had strong words for those who have vandalized the city’s washrooms.
“We don’t know who is causing the fires and who is causing the vandalism. It could be any walk of life. If the person that lit the bathrooms on fire is a fully functioning individual… I plead with you to stop doing that kind of thing you are having a devastating impact on marginalized people,” Fehr said.
With the repeated vandalism the washrooms are also proving costly.
The city said it has spent over $45,000 on washroom vandalism this year and fixing the fire damage will cost another $25,000.
“We’ve given folks something that they can use. If it is going to be disrespected like this then the taxpayers honestly paying for it in my view,” said councillor Scott Anderson.
“It’s not just the cost, it’s the futility of the cost… $25,000 is not going to break the city but an incremental increase of $25,000 a time is certainly going to do it.”
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The issue sparked debate amongst city councillors.
Anderson suggests the washrooms be repaired and then only opened for special events.
“Obviously, there is an argument to be made for humanitarian purposes. I understand that, but I also understand that the taxpayers cannot fund what is really turning out to be a bit of a babysitting experiment indefinitely if people can’t use the bathrooms without burning them down, Anderson said.
Meanwhile, councillor Fehr argues the city should do what it can to keep the washrooms open to help those with nowhere else to go.
Fehr voted against the reduction in hours.
“When it goes as far as lighting bathrooms on fire it is no wonder that my colleagues on council are calling for a reduction in hours,” said Fehr.
“For me, it comes down to a human rights issue. People who don’t have bathrooms they need a place to be able to use those facilities. It’s the humane thing for us to do.”
While the city council is giving public washrooms another chance, it also requested staff research options to prevent further damages.
Prior to the reduction in hours. One of the washrooms was open 24 hours a day and the other two operated from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The hours of all three washrooms were reduced to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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