walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Public 'strooms efforts in 3 West Coast cities

Back in the 1990s, Seattle and SF both attempted to install public restrooms in areas desperately in need of time: the Tenderloin and Pioneer Square. The theory was, this would reduce the alley/other slightly concealed space problem of human waste. In practice, they just served as places to deal in drugs and sex, and serve as the backdrop of various documentaries about how awful it was to be homeless in Cascadia. Both Seattle and SF, having spent millions of dollars to install these unmonitored, 24 hour availability, self-cleaning/easy to clean facilities, wound up uninstalling them.

More recently, Portland got in on it, taking advantage of lessons learned by their Northern and Southern neighbors. They installed a few versions of their "Portland Loo", claimed success and started selling it to other cities which inquired as to how that all worked. Then they were sued by their ratepayers for working on a project that was outside the scope of the utility. They sold the Loo off to a private company.

"The deal comes just months after the city lost a key ruling in a lawsuit filed by utility ratepayers, with a Multnomah County judge in March finding that Portland misspent $618,000 from Water Bureau funds on Loo efforts."


Meanwhile, San Diego is having problems installing its Portland Loo(s), and because they apparently didn't really think through site selection, it has been really expensive.


The private company that bought Portland Loo says this is the worst experience any city has had. I have no idea if that's true or not.

Meanwhile, SF has gone with a different approach. Rather than try to make 24/7 unattended work, they set up a pilot project called Tenderloin Pit Stop:


The strategy here is to provide _attended_, mobile strooms for certain daytime hours. That allows the city to locate them where they are most needed/where they are having to clean up the most human feces.

"The Tenderloin Pit Stop program will provide portable toilets and sinks, used needle receptacles and dog waste stations at three locations in the neighborhood. All are mounted on flat-bed trailer than easily be transported."

"The portable bathroom stations will operate from 2 to 9 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays"

Other coverage indicates the timing is to cover when benefits happen and various other things associated with non-profits in the area which provide assistance to the homeless. The 6 month pilot made it all the way through the whole 6 months, was regarded as a success and has been continued.


There are several issues driving this program, one of which is that San Francisco has water issues that make it difficult for them to use the traditional method of dealing with filth in the street (viz. washing it away in the middle of the night and letting the storm sewer system deal with it).

Providing public restrooms in urban areas that have high levels of services oriented to transients and low levels of access to privately funded restrooms is something that cities should do. [Note: I reworded this, because I remembered, again, LaConner in the 1980s. The problem is people passing through needed to unload, and a lack of privately supported support for those people. Homelessness is just one way that this can happen.] WE SHOULD DO THIS. But I think we are more likely to be successful when the problem is approached in a thoughtful, methodical way, which recognizes that this ain't gonna be cheap -- and which involves stakeholders who are forced to spend money anyway dealing with the problem, because those are the only groups which are going to be willing to keep shelling out for this over time.
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