Human waste issue at Vancouver park prompts call for 24/7 washroom

Complaints about dog poop littering parks aren't unusual, but at an East Vancouver park the issue is human feces, according to a neighbour and park user.

Zoe Raffard lives across the street from Commercial Drive's Grandview Park. She regularly spends time there walking her dog and playing with her one-year-old daughter.

"Last weekend the human waste was in a children's tree house," said Raffard. "Somebody had soiled some blankets in the playground, where they were seeking shelter."

Raffard dealt with the problem by wrapping yellow caution tape around the playground feature and reporting the incident to city officials by calling 3-1-1 — but she says she doesn't usually get a satisfying response.

She's urging officials to provide 24-hour toilet access at the park. Homeless people often spend the night there and the neighbourhood is popular with people living in vehicles.

Rafferty Baker/CBC
Rafferty Baker/CBC

"On two occasions over the summer, my dog came across some human waste in the park, and unfortunately ingested some before we realized what he was doing," said Raffard. "We thought he was just just sniffing at a bush — we didn't realize there was some feces, and he was eating some of it."

The distinction between human and canine poop is often easy to make, she said, because there will be soiled clothing or toilet paper scattered around the human waste.

Vandalism a problem

Grandview Park has a sturdy washroom facility, but according to Howard Normann, director of parks, it's closed overnight along with the rest of the city's park toilets.

"We find that any anything we leave open overnight tends to either get vandalized — and Grandview has been vandalized on numerous occasions, even in the daytime — or people move into them," said Normann.

He said there was a portable toilet left at the park in the summer as a trial, but it didn't go well.

"The ongoing vandalism and drug use that [was] happening in that porta-potty had us remove it," said Normann.

Raffard suggests either hiring an attendant to supervise the existing facility overnight, or invest in a separate, permanent one, like the Portland Loo, that could be left open.

Rafferty Baker/CBC
Rafferty Baker/CBC

New park toilet strategy being planned

Normann said Park Board staff are looking at all of the options as they work on a complete washroom strategy for the city's parks.

"This one in Grandview is relatively new," he said of the human feces problem. "We've been made aware of it on occasion. I wouldn't say it's increasing, but we know it's been ongoing — on and off — for a while."

Normann said the issue of people living in tents or vehicles around the park has been increasing over the last year or two.

Despite Raffard's complaint that calling 3-1-1 doesn't lead to anyone from the Park Board dealing with human waste found in the park, Normann said that is the best course of action.

"It's not always that easy just to phone and say, 'hey we found a pile here in the park, can somebody come and grab it,' but we do our best," said Normann.

Rafferty Baker/CBC
Rafferty Baker/CBC

Raffard wants to see her local park free of human feces, but she's sympathetic to the people leaving their deposits in the park.

"I believe it's part of the housing crisis. Having a home is not just about a place to sleep, it's about a place to toilet and wash with dignity," she said. "Being able to have access to private washroom is a basic human right that we all deserve."

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