Washroom attendants to staff 2 Calgary parks in $600,000 project to make them more safe and welcoming

The Downtown Washroom Attendant Pilot Project will be launched in Century Gardens, shown above, and Olympic Plaza. (City of Calgary - image credit)
The Downtown Washroom Attendant Pilot Project will be launched in Century Gardens, shown above, and Olympic Plaza. (City of Calgary - image credit)

Calgary's downtown parks will soon have more safety measures in place, thanks to a new pilot project that kicks off next week.

The Downtown Washroom Attendant Pilot Project will launch in two parks — Olympic Plaza and Century Gardens.

It's scheduled to begin Monday and expected to last until mid-October.

Each park will be staffed with washroom attendants every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The attendants will get rid of litter and clean up the restrooms while monitoring overall safety and reporting any untoward incidents that come to light.

"I'm excited about this pilot project as it makes spaces like this much more welcoming and safe for everyone," said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

"This is going to come in handy for families that are here at any time of the day enjoying whatever may be going on, including some pretty big events like [Calgary] Stampede."

For the pilot, the City of Calgary is teaming up with an advocacy group, Alberta Alliance Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly (AAWEAR).

"We see this as a great way to provide employment opportunities to those currently experiencing barriers to paid work," said Kathleen Larose, executive director of the group.

According to a statement released by the city, the alliance hires individuals "who come from lived or living experience of mental health, substance use and houselessness, and/or individuals who are empathetic to the cause."

Larose says the washroom attendants will pay close attention to those living within the park and try to offer support whenever possible.

They'll also be in touch with community peace officers, the Calgary Police Service, operational staff and social agencies like the Downtown Outreach Addictions Program.

"Our hope is that together, AAWEAR and the City of Calgary can help make these two public washrooms a welcoming space for all users," Larose said.

Attendants will work in teams of 2

The budget for the pilot is $600,000 and can be tweaked if needed to hire more staff members or possibly extend the project.

Washroom attendants will work in teams of two and carry walkie-talkies with them at all times in case they need to get in touch with team members.

"We have a co-ordinator for both the day shift and the night shift and we have phone call check-ins every hour to make sure that there isn't an incident rising," Larose said. "In the case that someone gets cornered, say in the washroom, we will be locking ourselves in the bathroom stall and calling for help, if needed."

All attendants have been trained to tackle non-violent crisis situations, administer CPR, use first-aid kits and intervene quickly in case of an emergency like a drug poisoning.

"Our hope is that the presence of attendants at these two washrooms will improve the user experience and make these welcoming spaces for everyone over the course of this pilot," Larose said.

Money not used well: councillor

For that price tag, however, Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot thinks that the money could've been used in a better way.

He said he understands that having a facility of this sort would need an attendant due to the possibility of unwanted uses, but other solutions could have been implemented where attendants may not have been required at all.

"You could get quite a few port-a-potties that would serve relatively the same purpose," he said. "They could have put them out at a few more venues, a few more facilities."