Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inner city needs more public washrooms: pastor

Rev. James Holland hopes these signs will draw attention to the problem of public defecation in Edmonton's inner-city area. (Tim Adams/CBC)

Homeless people need a place to use the washroom, the pastor of an inner-city church says, and he is launching a sign campaign to send that message to Edmonton city council.

Rev. James Holland said he often finds human excrement on and around the grounds of his Sacred Heart Church of First Peoples in the McCauley neighborhood.

It's frustrating, but its hard to blame people, he said. The only public washroom in the area isn't open in the winter.

"There is a tremendous need for people to have a place to go to the bathroom," he said.

Holland has cleaned up as much as five piles of human waste in one day, and last summer, he decided he had enough.

He put up large, professionally-made signs that read "No bodily functions", which featured a drawing of a squatting person with an "x" over it.

However, the city's parks department took the signs down, after someone complained about them being offensive.

Holland admits there is a bylaw against putting up signs without permission from the city, but there are also bylaws against public urination and defecation which are not being enforced, he said.

After some wrangling with city hall, Holland put his signs back up again. The city has now agreed to leave them there "until the community decides we don't have a need for them," he said.

Holland is now having signs made for people in the community who want them. He also has support from the McCauley Community League.

Holland said he is motivated by concerns about the health and safety of children who live in the area.

"It's certainly not healthy for our children to have broken glass and human waste laying around in the park," he said.

The city will look at the question of whether Edmonton should build more public washrooms on Tuesday.

A report prepared for council notes there are very few public washrooms in central Edmonton.

Vandalism, dirty washrooms, and the problem of facilities being used for drug use and prostitution have been identified as potential issues that will need to be dealt with.

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