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Urban Outdoorsmen

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Mike

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Here's a glimpse of another world that I want no part of:
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Vancouver tries to clean up problem of people defecating in street
By AMY CARMICHAEL


VANCOUVER (CP) - The ripe stench of human excrement is getting stronger in downtown lanes, curling the stomachs of workers who no longer want to relax by the back door for smoke breaks.

"We're getting to the point where the need for public toilets is getting serious," said Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

"There's a burgeoning entertainment district, a growing homelessness problem and people have nowhere to go.

"I've been with the association for 15 years and it's just becoming more and more of an issue for more of our members. The stench of urine and feces in back lanes in the central business district and the Downtown Eastside, where it's probably a lot worse."

The 10-block city slum is swollen with up to 5,000 injection drug users who have less control of their bowels. Many are homeless and have nowhere to go to the toilet.

Often the drug users roam out of the neighbourhood into alleys linking downtown businesses.

Gauthier said his members don't want to clean up the piles excrement the homeless make on their properties and he doesn't blame them.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has gotten involved and is calling for action before disease spreads.

"Defecating and urinating in the street is not something that's healthy for individuals," said Richard Taki, public health protection officer for the authority.

"A number of diseases are passed through the fecal-oral route. If people are tracking this bacteria into eating establishments and public facilities we're running the risk of a problem with rodents and insects carrying bacteria.

"Salmonella is the obvious threat and for a lot of the homeless people who are imunocompromised, food poisoning is going to be serious."

He said a solution, likely portable public toilets, is imminent.

"It's going to be sooner rather than later, it's something we're going ahead with."

City planners met with the business association Wednesday to tell them a range of options will have to be discussed.

"There's a considerable cost involved. In the Downtown Eastside we're going to need a supervised bank of toilets and that's going to cost in excess of $5,000 a month," said Bob Ross, a city engineer working on the issue.

Open urinals are also in the mix of strategies being considered.

"I'm not sure our culture is ready for that. It seems to me it's an undignified and humiliating way of dealing with the problem, but one that also seems to be working in parts of England and Amsterdam," Ross said.

There are logistical and financing challenges in the way of cleaning back lanes.

But the city, the health authority and the business association are all in agreement that something has to be done now.

"It's awful for residents who have to deal with the smell wafting in through their windows and it's just getting so much worse," said Ross.

Stakeholders have been discussing for years a plan to put self-cleaning, automated public toilets in the downtown, but have been afraid that they would be used for prostitution and to shoot drugs.

The city has a contract with a street furniture company to provide six of the units and just has to decide if they are something the community would respect and where to put them.

"There have been problems with illegal activity happening in the toilets in other cities, like Seattle and San Francisco," said Gauthier.

"But now I think we've come to a point in Vancouver where we have to act. The public need far outweighs those concerns. These units are going to be automated and will have a time limit on them. And really, people are going shoot drugs wherever they want."

Vancouver city council has turned to other Canadian municipalities for guidance, but so far nobody has come up with a solution, said Ross.

Vancouver is set to commission a study to map the size of the problem and is considering spending more money on maintaining public toilets in the downtown entertainment and business districts.

More funding is needed for permanent public washrooms in the Downtown Eastside slum where thousands of homeless drug users have long used alleys as toilets.

Kim Kerr, general manager of the Downtown Eastside Resident's Association, said he is disgusted with the plan.

"This is a ghetto where people are turned out to rot, we're talking about adults with the mental capabilities of 10-year-olds who are addicted to drugs. They have no home, they have no toilet. What do you expect," Kerr said.

"We are worrying about the mess of piss in the street while homeless people are dying. Let's spend the money on toilets on houses. We treat human beings in this city with less concern than we show animals."
 

nr

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It is hard to believe with all the money floating around in wealthy Vancouver that they don't have some quick solution yet. Even porta-potties.
 

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