Businesses flush bathroom plan

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When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, but choices are limited downtown.

Melissa Savoie, owner of Vintage & Vogue, said she didn’t apply for the bathroom incentive program that would have given her $500 from the city to open her bathroom to the public.
Jessica Davey-Quantick/NNSL photo

The city tried to change this in June by offering downtown businesses an incentive of $500 to open their washrooms to the public. The only business owner to take the city up on its offer was the same person who pitched the idea in the first place – Jason Perrino, owner of Twist & Shout.

The city’s senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett said city staff haven’t polled businesses to find out why no one else applied for the money, but said she’s “getting the feeling” the issue is probably concern over how the spaces will be used.

“We’ve sweetened the pot, we thought, by adding a grant,” she said, adding she still keeps up hope people will have a “change of heart” and consider opening their bathrooms to the public.

Perrino said vandalism and loitering haven’t been a problem in his facilities.

“The reason why our bathrooms are not damaged or screwed up is that they are open, they are propped open, and supervised,” he said.

Bassi-Kellett said the city grant would go to cover additional supplies, such as toilet paper, as well as costs associated with cleaning and supervising the washrooms.

But some business owners don’t see how opening their facilities will help fix the problem.

Melissa Savoie, owner of Vintage & Vogue, said she’d heard about the program but didn’t apply. Because her store is up a flight of stairs, she doesn’t think her bathroom would be a prime candidate for the public, especially the homeless population.

“I don’t have that many coming in,” she said. “If I had just people coming in off the street I would certainly take them up on that.”

Jennifer Fischlin, co-owner of Vixen Hair Den, said she’s been telling the city it needs to do something about the bathroom issue for years – especially after encountering people defecating in back alleys.

“We never applied because we’ve always opened our doors to the public,” she said. “But occasionally you have the woman that has peed on our front door who obviously needed a bathroom, you know?”

Another issue is time – after her businesses shut for the day, people who would benefit would still have nowhere to go. Currently, there is a public washroom open during the summer in Somba K’e Civic Plaza for a few hours every day. That washroom closes from September to June. City washrooms, such as those at city hall, the library, the Multiplex, Fieldhouse and Ruth Inch Memorial Pool are not open overnight.

Yellowknife’s emergency shelters provide washroom facilities, but all have rules around conduct and intoxication – leaving many of the city’s less fortunate in the lurch.

Bassi-Kellett said the incentive program was a interim solution while the city came up with something better, such as including public washroom space in future developments. One option could be stand alone facilities, which have been launched in Edmonton and Calgary.

“That’s a few years out though,” she added.