The absence of public washrooms and lack of shelter for homeless men in the downtown core are violations of human rights. And Brittany Laurie wants to the community to come together to pressure the City of Greater Sudbury to address the situation.
Laurie is a former outreach worker and is organizing what she is calls a rally and information session starting at 8 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21, at Tom Davies Square.
Access to sanitation and shelter are basic human rights and a matter of human dignity, said Laurie, who has not been the only person to voice a concern over the situation. Downtown businesses and people who work with the homeless and those struggling with substance misuse disorders have shared similar concerns with the media and city officials.
Despite there being toilet facilities available at the Samaritan Centre during certain periods throughout the day, there is no overnight access unless the person is staying at a shelter, said Laurie.
As a result, human feces and urine in alleyways and near buildings has become a regular occurrence in the city's centre. Laurie and those that provide support services for the population say that’s through no fault of their own.
“There are people out there with colon cancer and need to use the bathroom,” said Laurie. “And there are time limits at the Mission because unfortunately, some people will use (drugs) in there. But I had a client with colon cancer, so it takes her longer to use the washroom. At five minutes, there are people banging on the door, trying to open the door, to tell them to get out.”
Laurie said the situation can be quickly remedied with the use of portable or mobile toilets.
“I believe porta potties are an effective way to address this because building a facility will be costly. Until something can be built, porta potties are easy and relatively inexpensive.”
Memorial Park and around the transit centre are some ideal locations, said Laurie, although there are homeless people now living in areas outside the downtown core.
Additionally, “other people should have access to a bathroom when they’re out and about,” she said.
Laurie said she requested portable toilets from the city but was told there were numerous associated risks. The Sudbury Star contacted the city to learn more about their strategy to address the lack of toilet facilities in the downtown core but had not received a response by press time.
In addition, said Laurie, there is a lack of shelter space for men, with only 35 beds available to men — another six at the detox centre — while there are more than 75 beds that women can access.
“Statistically, the majority of homeless are men,” she said. “There are very few places for men.”
Laurie has worked in outreach for two years but is leaving the profession to return to school to become a paramedic.
“I’d like to do more,” she said about her desire to continue working with the population. “There is xylazine in the drugs, which has been linked to necrotizing fasciitis, flesh-eating disease.”
Laurie said her clients are not provided medical care with dignity and she sees a need for better wound care at the street level.
“In the long run, I want to team up with an RN (registered nurse) to be able to open up a wound care clinic,” she said.
Evie Ali is the executive director of the Go-Give Project, a non-profit organization that provides nutrition, harm reduction, first aid and other services to those living with substance misuse disorders, the majority of whom are homeless and live in the downtown core.
Although Ali is not organizing the rally, she could attest to Laurie’s concerns.
“Public washroom access has been something we’ve been advocating for since early 2020,” she said.
“There are very limited spaces in the community and there have been times when the YMCA has been nice enough to open their doors to our community members to allow them to use the washrooms but other than that, they’ve taken the bathrooms out of the Tim Hortons downtown, so access has become more and more limited since COVID.
"This does lead people to using places like alleyways and doorways, anywhere they feel they can get a little bit of shelter to relieve themselves privately.”
The situation is degrading for the population and takes away from their humanity and autonomy. At the same time, this is also a critical health concern for the general public, she said.
In reference to the need for more shelter space for men, Ali said 76 per cent of Go-Give’s clients are men. That percentage is based on the 350 people who access the organization’s services.
Although there are 35 beds available, they may not always be utilized. That’s why it’s important to look at creating safe spaces elsewhere, said Ali.
“We can’t expect everyone to fit into one box. There are some rules and regulations within the Off the Street Shelter where community members have a very difficult time abiding by.”
For example, someone with a mental illness may not be able to remain quiet at night. This leads men to living in encampments or abandoned buildings.
“It’s disheartening that it has come to this,” she said. “Protests and advocacy are very important in trying to seek resolution to these things. We haven’t seen any resolution in the last three years and I’m doubtful this (rally) will procure any changes or differences.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Laura Stradiotto, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star