The city is hoping the province will pay for Portland Loo-style washrooms, outreach and more after approving an application for $2.5 million worth of provincial grant funds.
Following a unanimous decision by council on Tuesday, staff will apply through the Union of BC Municipalities for the Strengthening Community Services program. The city says it is eligible for $2.5 million of the program funds, based on its population.
Portland Loo-style washrooms were previously planned for the city, but later cancelled, in part out of concern for cost.
Cost of the bathrooms has also raised eyebrows in the Lower Mainland, due to high cost of installation.
The city estimates cost of the bathrooms to be between $100,000 and $150,000 each and wants to install four, with two downtown and two on the North Shore, for a total of between $400,000 and $600,000 for the units, not including installation.
Council and staff heard concerns from the public about those who don’t have access to washrooms and subsequently urinate or defecate in alternative locations, such as in alleyways, on riverbanks or near businesses.
Mayor Ken Christian said he hears such concerns on a daily basis, noting access to public washrooms for those living on the street is a matter of human dignity.
No specific locations have been identified and another issue might be where to put them, should the city move forward.
Coun. Kathy Sinclair noted businesses do not want the facilities installed in front of their locations.
Washrooms would be available for the greater community, available for use during the Kamloops Regional Farmers’ Market, for example. A market spokesperson previously went before council, requesting access to bathroom services.
Another initiative included in the grant funding application is a lighted pathway between supportive housing on Mission Flats Road and the city centre, which would help to protect people from the railway tracks and other hazards.
Council heard the fencing would cost $650,000. Coun. Denis Walsh suggested the price tag was steep, with the city already paying to repair fencing behind businesses on West Victoria Street, through a contractor.
Finances were of concern to both Walsh and Coun. Arjun Singh, with both noting several of the items of the city’s grant wish list would result in operating costs in the future funded by the city — including the hiring of two additional community services officers.
Staff said the grant timeline was a tight turnaround, but Walsh said that he didn’t want to commit the city to funding the positions for “eternity.”
“Once you hire those two, you’re in for the long term,” he said.
Staff said it would prioritize certain initiatives based on actualities down the road, with some of the costs for the items yet to be shored up and the grant application deadline quickly approaching.
Coun. Dale Bass said a planned lived experience peer outreach program included in the outreach component would become teachers on the streets and that even if the city could do one more thing to help people on the streets, it would help to make things “a little bit better.”
Without the money, what would change?
“I trust staff on this. They know what we want to do,” Bass said.