A viral video that shows a woman defecating in a Langley City Tim Hortons and throwing her feces at an employee, speaks to a larger problem in the City that no one is talking about, says one activist.
Leith White, Pastor of the Friends Langley Vineyard Church at 5708 Glover Rd., says he has asked the City of Langley repeatedly to provide better washroom access for homeless people, as defecation in public spaces and on private property has become a major issue.
The City of Langley currently has bathrooms open for public use at most of their parks from dawn to dusk, with closures during the winter months.
On May 14, City council also unanimously approved a bylaw that would ban homeless people from camping overnight in Douglas Park. The bylaw details what behaviour and conduct in parks and public facilities is not acceptable, including “urinating or defecating in a park or public facility (and) obstructing the free use and enjoyment of a park of public facility by another person.”
But White says these facilities are not enough, and that those who have no fixed addresses largely rely on local businesses to do their business, or Langley’s parks and trails.
“Defecation is taking place throughout the city, and we want it to stop, obviously, because people are upset, businesses don’t want to have to be dealing with this, it’s not sanitary and all these other concerns,” White told the Times.
“Really, they’re dependent on the good graces of restaurants, fast food places, department stores, and quite honestly, they get asked to leave because they may be known, or suspected of being homeless. (Businesses) just don’t want them in the stores and stuff, so they get asked to leave, and that’s the dilemma.”
White confirmed that the person shown in the viral Tim Hortons video is a homeless woman, who frequents the Langley City area. After the incident, she was detained and released by the RCMP, and a court date has been set to determine if charges will be laid.
White believes her reaction stemmed from a growing frustration among the homeless community regarding washroom access.
“What’s sad is what’s being played out is a frustrated customer with this particular story,” White said. “And respectfully — wanting to respect the woman’s privacy, her situation, her mental health — she’s accessing a lot of services. She’s somebody who’s really trying, but is pushed to the point of frustration because there is no place to go, and the answers are always the same.”
The issue, he said, is complex, as the businesses don’t have to be catering to the homeless people’s needs, but the homeless people have nowhere else to turn.
“There’s probably 90 to 100 to 150 homeless individuals in downtown Langley, for any one, or two, or three, or however many businesses are letting them do that (use the washroom facilities), that can become quite taxing on the business,” White said.
“And I can get that position where they go, ‘Sorry, but enough is enough ….’
“You have one party (the business) drawing the line that says, enough is enough, I just can’t let you do it — and then on the other side, you have the other party (the homeless individual), who hears that all the time and says, enough is enough. Well, she’s responding in the same way — enough is enough. And I think that’s the kind of position that this woman was put in. I think she just said, forget this, enough is enough. This is crazy, and she got to that point of desperation where she obviously snapped.”
White said his church, which has many programs and services for the homeless community, offered to install a port-a-potty in their parking lot for the homeless to use. The City, however, told him he wasn’t allowed to do that, White said.
“There’s no simple solution to it, but to not talk, or to limit options, or not explore options or dialogue about it, is not a solution either — not for very long,” he said.
CITY FACES WASHROOM VANDALISM
Meanwhile, the City of Langley says port-a-potties present a number of concerns, and that there are other ways local social service groups, like the Vineyard Church or St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which provides soup kitchen services, can employ.
“I think we would encourage those groups to allow those homeless individuals to go into their facility to use the washroom facilities. Because after all, they’re offering them services which attract the homeless individuals to their place. And I think it would be responsible for these groups to offer that (washroom) service inside their facility as well,” said Francis Cheung, City of Langley CAO.
“We are concerned with having a port-a-potty outside their facility … it would attract a number of individuals that may have a detrimental impact on the businesses and property owners adjacent to the Vineyard Church.”
The City has also received a number of complaints from port-a-potty companies about used needles being disposed of in their toilets. A regular washroom facility, however, could have used sharps containers inside, much like the City’s public facilities do, Cheung added.
On top of that, Cheung said the City’s public washrooms are frequently damaged, and they receive complaints from individuals and businesses in the downtown core about people defecating in public spaces and on private property.
In 2017, vandalism cost the City approximately $75,000 to clean up, and $7,500 of that was homeless related damage. That figure has already been surpassed this year, with the City spending $73,900 so far in 2018, with $37,290 in homeless vandalism costs. A significant amount of the vandalism cost is related to homeless camp clean-ups, Cheung said.
“We do have challenges with vandalism at some of our washrooms where the sinks are removed, debris is stuffed in the toilet, even needles and boulders and rocks and stuff,” he said. We receive a lot of vandalism and damage to our washrooms. Consequently, sometimes we have to close them up for repairs and things like that.”
|This photo, showing syringes and bank cards strewn about the floor, was taken inside a washroom at City Park in September, 2017.The parent who took the photo said “it was shocking to see and definitely disturbing that something like this would be at a park. Langley Times file photo.”|
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Another local outreach worker, Fraser Holland, said that the Tim Hortons video also highlights the need for better access to mental health support.
“I was saddened to see the video and to know that it has gone viral. Moreso, I’m saddened to see someone reduced by circumstances to the point where that individual feels that such drastic actions are their last resort,” Holland told the Times.
He said there is still room for improvement when it comes to helping those with mental health and substance abuse issues in the community, but noted that Langley has taken some major strides forward.
The Intensive Case Management team, for example, provides outreach with clinical supports for those facing substance abuse and mental health issues, and there are also Public Health nurses helping with Income Support cheque issues. Stepping Stone Community Services Society has now partnered with a nurse practitioner one day a week for community work, and RCMP officers have been working with individuals who are dealing with mental health issues.
“Some individuals that are trying to survive with these challenges don’t fit into the conventional and traditional ways of service provision. They are the most vulnerable and most in need of support and assistance,” Holland said.
“Creating a connection with someone who is struggling to survive with little to no stability in their life takes time and it takes, in my opinion to be successful, being willing and able to go to the individual. Setting an appointment for two weeks down the road in an office is a low percentage engagement approach for the most vulnerable.”
“In so many areas, including human dignity, there are ways to explore, learn, understand and reach out. We’ve made progress but we need momentum to continue.”
SAFETY A CONCERN FOR TIM HORTONS
When asked for comment on the viral video, Tim Hortons responded with the following statement:
“We strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our guests and the communities we serve. We are deeply concerned by this video as the safety of our team members and guests is always a top priority for us. In limited cases across the country, restaurants have a restricted access policy for restrooms to ensure the well-being of our guests.
Our current understanding is that the team member used their discretion in this case and denied access to this guest based on past behaviour and out of concern for the immediate safety of team members and guests in the restaurant. As matters escalated, the team member contacted local authorities for assistance. We are continuing to work with the restaurant owner of this location to look into this matter further.”
The owners of the Langley City store, located at 20300 Douglas Cres., declined to comment.