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Daycare operator pleads Winnipeg councillors to clean up weapons, needles in parks

The head of an inner-city daycare pleaded with city councillors to take action on cleaning up weapons, used needles and other dangerous debris left lying in neighbourhood parks.

Lois Coward, executive director of Niigaanaki Day Care Centre, told the community services committee they have found bullets in the yard outside their facility, as well as a machete at the playground by Central Park.

When she takes kids to one of several nearby green spaces, they regularly find used needles, some of which appear to have been handed out by harm reduction groups, Coward said.

“They’re bright orange … so we know that they’ve got those at a safe place, but you know, they’re still being … left as garbage in open areas where children play,” she said.

Coward wants the city to proactively clean up parks near daycares like hers every morning, before they take the kids out to play, usually between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

Daniel McIntyre Coun. Cindy Gilroy brought forward a motion at the City Centre committee last week, calling for the city to make it policy to prioritize cleanup at all parks, playgrounds and tot lots within a one-kilometre radius of daycares “within the higher needs areas of the city.”

“There might be some money to help, so we could have somebody maybe fully going to these parks and monitoring them on a regular basis,” she told reporters on Thursday.

The committee asked city staff for a report on policy options and financial implications to address “the issue of dangerous debris being left inside city parks and the need for its cleanup.” That passed unanimously.

Committee rejects bathroom incentives

The committee also rejected a city proposal to explore offering incentives to private businesses and organizations to allow non-customers to use their washroom facilities.

The city currently operates three portable toilets at 185 Young St., 505 Furby St. and 400 Cumberland Ave., as well as a permanent washroom called Amoowigamig on Main Street.

The plan would have redirected funding for the portable toilets — about $40,000 — toward potential supports for businesses for extra staff, supplies and maintenance, in an effort to make more public washrooms available across downtown and the inner city.

Committee members voted to take no action on the proposal, with committee chair Coun. Evan Duncan and Coun. Russ Wyatt raising concerns about the city paying for health and social services they said should be provided by the provincial government. 

Duncan also questioned whether the amount of money available would be enough to convince private businesses to take on the challenge of offering their facilities to people who may be experiencing mental health and addictions issues.

He noted that operations at Amoowigamig, including peer-support staff on site 16 hours a day, cost more than $400,000 a year.

Coun. Vivian Santos joined the other two committee members in voting to receive report as information, saying she would rather the city look at building a new permanent washroom facility.

Coun. Ross Eadie was the only councillor who voted against receiving the report as information.

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