A decision to close nearly every transit washroom in Edmonton in an attempt to reduce drug poisonings set off a firestorm of criticism Thursday.
After CTV News Edmonton reported the story, residents were left wondering where they should go, when they need to go.
“So it’s OK to poop on the train then?” local mom and actor Stephanie Wolfe wondered.
“Public washrooms are about dignity for everyone,” resident Todd Janes stated in a tweet.
Some local advocates also argued that this was not a good solution to help with harm reduction.
“This narrow-minded move is not the way to avoid drug poisoning risk,” tweeted Moms Stop the Harm, a group that advocates against “failed drug policies.”
“People need washrooms AND safe spaces to use! Demand Alberta Health Services fund and reopen Boyle Street safe consumption site and open the washrooms in stations!”
“The whole community needs a safe place for people who use drugs. Closing them and pushing people into other places IS NOT WORKING,” tweeted the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association.
The washrooms will remain closed until further notice, a City of Edmonton spokesperson said Friday, adding transit inspectors are still being trained to help people who are overdosing.
“If someone is in need of medical assistance within a public area in transit, emergency supports are likely to be aware of the incident more quickly and potentially able to provide a more timely response,” Olena Babiy wrote in a statement.
‘A CHALLENGING DECISION’
City council approved the decision in February to lock the bathroom doors, as part of an Enhanced Transit Safety Plan.
Since March 7, 15 out of 18 transit washroom locations had been closed.
Downtown councillor Anne Stevenson has received complaints, but said council and staff felt they had no choice but to do this.
“There was a need to address the drug poisonings that were happening,” Stevenson said Friday.
“It is really rough. I appreciate people’s disappointment. I think the goal is to get those up and running as soon as possible and safe to do so.”
Last year, transit police officers received almost 8,000 calls regarding people inside of the washrooms, a recent report stated.
At the same time, council is spending millions of dollars to provide more public washrooms in Edmonton.
In an email to CTV News Edmonton, a city spokesperson suggested that Edmontonians use the permanent washrooms located in parks and city facilities, but earlier this year the mayor admitted there are not enough of those.
“It’s a basic amenity that the city is absolutely behind in offering, and we need to catch up. We need to do more and we’re committed to doing more,” Amarjeet Sohi said during budget talks in January.
Stevenson acknowledged the perception is not great.
“We’re committing huge resources from the city to expand our public washrooms, so to be closing some at the same time is really problematic,” she said.
‘THE SOLUTION IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF US’
Another councillor called the situation “frustrating,” as he pointed a finger at the provincial government.
“The solution is right in front of us. Safe consumption sites, funded and operated by the provincial government,” Janz argued.
He said the province has been limiting access to harm reduction, making life harder for people addicted to drugs.
“They need to stop pushing this into the transit stations, stop pushing this into the pedways. We know we need safe consumption sites, we know we have a drug poisoning emergency,” Janz said.
In the meantime, council is hiring more security and staff to make transit safer, Janz said, in hopes of reopening washrooms soon.
“It’s not a solution just to lock the washrooms,” Janz said.
In the past few months, Alberta officials have announced plans to study the “safe supply” of opioids, pay for Sublocade injections and offer addiction treatment access in jails, in an effort to combat the opioid crisis.
The province released data last week showing that 176 people died in both November and December bringing the yearly total to 1,758.
With files from The Canadian Press
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