Failing the Homeless and Vulnerable

“We need firstly some very basic things happening. We need access to portable toilets in our communities, so people can at least go to the bathroom, with wash stations so they can sanitize.” — Janet Bickerton, Ally Centre of Cape Breton, 30 March 2020, CBC interview


As noted above, Janet Bickerton, who co-ordinates health services for the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, put out the call for these “very basic things,” portable toilets, on March 30.

By that point, CBRM’s libraries had been closed for two weeks and Loaves and Fishes, the food bank/soup kitchen in Sydney, had closed its dining room and was open for take-out only. (Any restaurant still open at this time was open for take-out only.)

Yet it would be another week — not until April 7 — before CBRM Council would address the request for portable toilets. During that day’s (virtual) council meeting, councilors considered a memo from Mayor Cecil Clarke himself outlining two COVID-19-related projects the municipality had identified for a “90-day period based on a 50/50 cost-share with the province.”

The first involved creating “hygiene/shower/clothes washing program for homeless and vulnerable populations, including youth.” It carried a total cost of $114,000 and was to involve the following sites:

Undercurrent Youth Centre, Glace Bay
Undercurrent Youth Centre, Sydney
Ally Centre Sydney
Community Cares Youth Outreach, Sydney Mines

The second project, as I reported, was created in recognition that with “retail and gas stations closing washroom facilities public access to washroom facilities no longer exists” and involved renting 13 portable toilets to be placed at a number of sites around the CBRM — all of which had expressed their “willingness to participate” — for a total cost of $20,000.

Council then passed a motion to :

…support the $134,000.00 funding request and approve a CBRM contribution up to $67,000.00 towards the Homeless and Vulnerable Citizen Support Services projects as presented, based on matching funding from the Province of Nova Scotia.


No sign

But as I write, on Wednesday, April 22, those portable toilets have yet to be installed. I went for a walk on Sunday night specifically to see if I could find them and, as you can see from the photos below, they were nowhere to be found:


Christine Porter, executive director of the Ally Centre, told me in an email on Monday:

I am hoping to hear from the CBRM by the end of the day, if they don’t follow through, the Ally Centre will be ordering the portables with hope of reimbursement!

In the absence of an official CBRM communications person, I was told to address my questions to IT director John MacKinnon, who told me yesterday that he would look into the matter and get back to me.

As of press time, I had not heard back from MacKinnon, although I’ve been told Mayor Cecil Clarke appeared on CBC Mainstreet Cape Breton yesterday to discuss the situation with host Wendy Bergfeldt. I missed the discussion and it’s not yet online, so I am not sure how he explained the delay, but I’m equally unsure I would find any explanation particularly convincing. (And from some of the social media response I’ve seen to the interview, it seems those who did hear the explanation did not find it particularly convincing.)

Bickerton described these projects — portable toilets, a place to get in from the cold, which she also called for on March 30 — as “very basic things” and I noted last week that they really represent the very least we could do to help the homeless and vulnerable in our community.

And yet, we haven’t managed to do them.