In August, Trisha Keyes-Bevan was surprised to find the restrooms near a Campbell Avenue Park wading pool closed on a Sunday afternoon.
Keyes-Bevan lives in the Junction Triangle and frequents nearby parks with her grandson. “It’s really frustrating, especially for a young child,” she says. “I mean, what do you do when they have to leave?”
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It’s become an all too common question in Toronto, especially with people flocking to city parks during the pandemic for socially distanced outdoor activities. Those who rely on public parks as their backyards have found themselves looking for clean, unlocked public restrooms and working water fountains to stay hydrated.
In total, the city has 448 public toilets for its three million residents, including 155 in community recreation facilities. Among those in public parks, only 48 are open all year round, of which 140 are only open from May to October.
According to a city spokesperson, many restrooms in the park are seasonal restrooms — some built as early as the 1950s — and were not designed or built for winter use and lack insulated plumbing and electric heat. sufficient.
It doesn’t help that when they are open, their opening hours are also limited. Park restrooms are open from about 9 a.m. until dusk, though during the busier summer months the city says it tries to keep some open until 10 p.m.
Access to park facilities ended at city council this year, with councilors passing a motion in June to expedite the opening of water resources in parks, including water fountains and public toilets “in the aim of opening the facilities as soon as possible after the risk of frost has passed, but with a target of the end of May at the latest.
No mention was made of extending their hours.
The council also asked the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department to provide an update on plans to winterize the park’s restrooms during the 2023 budget process.
It currently costs $1.4 million per year to activate facilities and $3 million for all of the city’s water assets, which include outdoor swimming pools, wading pools and community gardens.
If the problem affects everyone, it is more difficult for others.
Nikki Sutherland lived in a tent outside Sanctuary in 2020 and remembers having to wake her partner at night to feel safe and secure while she went to the bathroom in the bushes or in an alley.
“It’s almost humiliating to have to go out like an animal. We have feelings too,” Sutherland said.
Com. Gord Perks, who earlier voted to open restrooms and drinking fountains, said every neighborhood should be a place where people can walk around and get a drink of water or use the restroom if they need it. need.
“It’s just basic human biology. Every neighborhood, every day of the year, every hour of the day,” Perks said.
Cadence Guo, who lived in the city from 2013 to 2021, said she often stops drinking water three hours before a walk in case she needs to use the toilet.
“Otherwise, if I have to go to the toilet somewhere, there are no public toilets along my route,” Guo said.
Guo compares this with her visits to China, where she said there were public toilets in every neighborhood, even in small rural areas.
As for the drinking fountains, although the city aims to have them in the spring, sometimes this may not happen until well before the hot season.
The city has more than 700 public fountains in parks. But the fountains that are attached to the seasonal toilets are only turned on when the buildings open – mid-May and operational until mid-October. This year, only 60% were working at the end of May.
Keyes-Bevan said she contacted her adviser when she noticed the drinking fountains weren’t operational yet – in June.
“It’s disconcerting because you have to hydrate a lot and then you go out and what’s the use of the toilets if they’re not available?”
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