Restaurateur calls on Yellowknife businesses to open washrooms to public

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Yellowknife Rotary Club offers up $100K for a 24/7 public washroom downtown

A restaurateur in Yellowknife is looking to partner with the city and downtown businesses to open up existing washrooms to the public.

Most washrooms in downtown Yellowknife are locked, including the two washrooms in the Centre Square Mall.

The call for better access to washrooms in the downtown was noted in the city's plan to revitalize the area. However, the $1.9 million project was removed from the 2017 budget due to a lack of a clear path forward.

The owners of Twist and Shout, a downtown Yellowknife restaurant and nightclub, believe they have a cheaper solution for the city.

"My doors are already open. What if we partnered together in some way where you paid for toilet paper, hand soap, and a nominal fee of some kind," said Jason Perrino, co-owner of Twist and Shout.

"If you partnered with all the small businesses that exist downtown, and opened all the bathrooms downtown, rather than only having one bathroom in one mall that everybody uses… you would have everybody who'd have access to bathrooms."

Perrino sent his pitch to the city in an email. He is awaiting a response.

"I can't solve the problem myself. It takes a community," he said.

Taking action

Perrino and his partner took over the Twist restaurant in 2015. At that time, Perrino said homeless or street people would commonly defecate in the alley behind the building, and disrupt deliveries.

"Sometimes we weren't able to get deliveries because people were using our back area as a bathroom. We had to clean it up, and we figured why are we cleaning two spaces when we could only clean one space," Perrino said.

Perrino said his washrooms have been open to the public for the last two years.

He said, on average, five non-paying customers use the washrooms daily, and without incident.

"Our bathroom doors are not locked. They are actually propped open," Perrino added.

"We just go in and make sure there is enough soap, sort of make sure that people are using the facilities like they are supposed to, and we leave."

Perrino admits not all washrooms may be suited for public use, like single occupant water closets that lock. He said washrooms that lock are problematic because it is harder for staff to check in on the space.

Perrino hopes other Yellowknife businesses will join his initiative, with or without city funds.

However, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce has declined to participate.

"We don't open our own bathrooms to the public," said Deneen Everett, executive director for the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

"We have had our own problems here... we wish him success"

The City of Yellowknife currently provides public washrooms during business hours at city hall, the public library, and seasonally at the Somba K'e Civic Plaza.

The Salvation Army, Centre for Northern Families, and Safe Harbour Day Shelter provide washroom facilities for Yellowknife's homeless and less fortunate. 

The Safe Harbour Day Shelter extended its hours on January 1, 2017 to eliminate any gaps in services between the shelters.