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Pandemic shows need for public washrooms number one issue: toilet advocate

Last Updated Jul 15, 2020 at 12:59 pm PDT

A porta-pottie beside Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa, placed to allow people including those who are homeless or precariously housed to access a washroom, is seen on May 20, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A self-described toilet advocate doesn't want the lack of public washrooms to persist post-COVID-19

The pandemic highlighted the need for public toilets in cities like Vancouver since many are closed as a precaution

Lezlie Lowe Canadians don't necessarily consider public washrooms as necessary because of cultural views

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — What do you do when nature calls, and there’s nowhere to answer? A self-described toilet advocate says the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn a lot more attention to what was once a niche problem.

More and more people are noticing the lack of public toilets as the COVID-19 pandemic forces buildings to close, and people to spend more time outdoors

Lezlie Lowe is the author of “No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs.” She tells the Big Story podcast until recently, most people were okay with relying on coffee shops or gas stations for their washroom needs, but those options are more limited these days.

“People are angry, I don’t want to overstate it, but it can be scary too. I think we’ve all had that experience of really having to go and not having a place to go,” she says.

Many public buildings or public toilets have been sealed off in the name of safety during the pandemic, so more people are finding themselves in desperate situations.

The Big Story Podcast: Nature’s calling but there’s nowhere to answer. Why we need to make public toilets a number one issue

“I would say it’s turned into this rage, this low-level rage,” Lowe says.

She explains groups like the elderly or people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have been calling attention to this problem for years, and the pandemic has raised the profile of the conversation.

Adding she knows public washrooms aren’t cheap, Lowe says they are an essential part of maintaining a walkable, livable city.

But she says Canadians don’t really put public washrooms in the same category as street lights or trash cans, and part of the reason for that is cultural.

“We learn that bathrooms are gross and that bathrooms are funny,” she says.

While cities like Montreal and Toronto have brought in portable toilets during the pandemic, they’re mostly meant to serve homeless populations.

Lowe says this is a long-term problem. Once the pandemic is over, she says the lack of bathroom options will remain, and it’s partly up to municipalities to find solutions

“I would hate to see us go back to a situation where we’re just right back where we were.”

-With files from the Big Story