Finding a place to relieve yourself when you have nowhere to go can make you feel less than human, says the head of an Osborne Village non-profit organization.
Those who make the trek to Augustine United Church will soon have a host of facilities available to help them feel clean and refreshed, including a washroom, shower and laundry facilities free for their use.
“We’re really hoping that we can add some dignity to people’s existence and to their lives, and we want to blast that whole idea of what a shelter looks like,” said Glynis Quinn, executive director of Oak Table, which offers free meals and other programming to people in the community.
The organization plans to move its entire operation into the church’s basement, which will undergo a massive renovation beginning in January and expected to be finished in April.
One of the first things guests will find when they walk in the new entrance will be a washroom and shower right next to the door.
“So when people come in, they don’t have to go through the whole space. They can just come in, use the washroom and then leave,” said Quinn.
Gotta go? Pop-up portable potty sets up in downtown Next to the washroom, in a concrete room Quinn refers to as “the bunker,” there will be a supply of toiletries and other items available.
“Right now, we have to spread everything out on a table and people don’t have that privacy, and we want to give them that dignity of being able to come and say, ‘I need some tampons,’ or ‘I need a new pair of underwear.’ “
‘Feeling of specialness’ The organization has grown from serving a group of people who could literally fit around a small oak table in the church in 1981 to serving an average of 150 people every day.
Four days a week, Oak Table serves free soup and sandwiches to hungry community members, some of whom rely on the food so they can afford to stay in their homes.
On a Wednesday afternoon, dozens of people sit around tables on the main floor of the church, chatting and listening to volunteer musicians singing and playing guitar.
Oak Table serves soup and sandwiches four days a week in a space on the main floor of the church. (Cameron MacLean/CBC) In a small kitchen, volunteers serve soup out of a large pot to guests as they line up.
Quinn hopes the renovation will offer Oak Table’s guests a more dignified way to receive their food.
“We hate that soup line. We don’t like to see people having to line up for food,” she said.
Instead, guests will sit at tables covered with a cloth, with cloth napkins, as volunteers come around with heated carts to serve them food.
The tables will also be smaller, seating four instead of 12, allowing more intimate conversations among friends, Quinn said.
“The feeling of specialness for people is incredible.”
The new kitchen will also more closely resemble a home, with an open concept and household appliances, along with a large kettle for the soup.
“You can imagine how long it takes soup for 150 people to make, and to keep it at the right temperature and to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom of a pot,” Quinn said.
A different look In addition to the shower facilities, the new space will have large sinks with gooseneck faucets to allow people to wash their hair.
Cheeky photo campaign asks ‘Peggers who gotta ‘go’ to cross their legs There will also be a private room for the examinations done by nurses Oak Table brings in to look at clients’ feet and treat issues before they become a problem.
“Folks walk here from all over, and if their feet are not in good shape, they’re not in good shape,” Quinn said.
Other community organizations offer laundry services, but Quinn says clients have told her they often have to wait months for access. With the new laundry facility, guests will be able to wash their clothes, and volunteers will no longer need to take Oak Table’s laundry home.
Glass-walled rooms will provide space for programming, community meetings and art.
“For people who have anxiety, who have some mental-health concerns, to see a wall with just a door, they’re not likely to go through to see if they want to participate. But if they can see people enjoying their time, enjoying the space, they’re much more likely to participate themselves.”
The new space will give Oak Table significantly more room to offer programming and serve meals to clients. (Cameron MacLean/CBC) Community volunteer Donald Daly has worked with Oak Table for six years. The new facility will make a difference in the lives of many people in the community who are less privileged than others, he said.
“They’ll realize that there’s a place that really cares about them,” he said.
It will also make a difference in the surrounding community, he said.
“These are a lot of people who couldn’t afford to go for lunch anywhere in the Osborne Village. I think the community would say that we’re doing a good service.”
Osborne again: After a period of decline, cannabis retailers bringing new life to the Village Quinn hopes providing free washroom facilities will take some pressure off nearby businesses.
“I think it’s very hard to say no to people when they need to use the washroom, but really, they don’t have the ability to allow people in to use their washroom all the time.”
Oak Table has operated out of Augustine United Church since 1981. (Cliff Simpson/CBC) Oak Table has sent out tenders for the construction project and is waiting to select a contractor.
When the reno is finished, Quinn hopes people will start looking at Oak Table’s clients differently.
“Many of our folks have told me that people don’t even look them in the eyes when they’re on the street, that they look away if they see them,” she said.
“We want people to bring their eyes back to people and recognize that they’re important human beings and that they have something to offer.”
About the Author Cameron MacLean
Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.