Businesses push Vancouver to install more public toilets

VANCOUVER — Vancouver business owners and advocates are urging the city to install more public toilets and extend hours of existing facilities.

Many of the scarce city-operated automated public toilets close at 10 p.m. — long before bars close. That leads to public urination outside businesses, leaving owners to clean up with bleach and power-washing outside their doorways or risk having customers avoid the area.

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Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association CEO Charles Gauthier said public urination, along with homelessness and property crime, are topics that arise whenever his organization surveys its thousands of members.

“It’s not just homeless people who need the public washrooms,” Gauthier said. “People go to bars and nightclubs, and they tend to go — mostly men — to the back lanes to relieve themselves. That’s one of the concerns that our business members have.”

Ann Chan, an employee at the Opticana Eyewear store at 570 Seymour St., said she and others in her store often have to clean outside the store because people have urinated there.

“It’s probably once a week, or every two weeks,” she said. “It’s worse in the summer.”

It happens more often at the IGA store, on the northeast corner of Robson and Richards streets. “There’s urine outside in the corners at least three times a week,” said David Sullivan, the store’s owner. “The back alley is perpetual with everything you can think of — feces and urine.”

Weekends, he said, are the worst. His staff uses biodegradable bleach and splashes water to eliminate the smell. He agreed with Chan that the problem intensifies when weather gets warmer and that the situation can be “unbearable” in the summer.

The city operates a public toilet about half a block west of Sullivan’s store, but he said that the facility blends into the streetscape and many people are likely unaware it exists.

That is the only public toilet in the association’s region that is open 24 hours, according to city data. Another public toilet, near the art gallery on Howe Street near West Georgia Street, closes at 10 p.m. So does one at the corner of Robson and Granville streets. Others, such as one at Nelson and Howe streets, are not operating, the city said.

The city said it installed an evening timer to close some toilets at 10 p.m. because of “heavy abuse activity and vandalism.” Some city-owned washrooms have been identified as high-risk sites for drug use and overdoses, it said.

That is no excuse Gauthier said. He said he is “disappointed” that the washrooms are not open around the clock.

Heightening his concern is that there are some small longer-term encampments in his 90-block district, and he does not think the city is taking sufficient action to end homelessness.

“It’s a cop-out that our elected officials are not focused on addressing these issues, and they feel it’s appropriate that people can sleep in parks and sleep on sidewalks,” he said. “I think that needs to be addressed. I don’t think that’s where people should sleep. We should try to find some other solutions to this issue and offer people safe and clean temporary shelters.”

The city started installing the toilets on streets in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Games.

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