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homelessness | social services


city and local service organizations adopting measures to address certain fundamental issues faced by homeless people in the city, may, on one key provision of those measures, have failed to take neccessary steps that will ensure its success.
One of the outcomes of the most recent review of the infamous sit-lie ordinance, is that the city has been persuaded of the need for more public restrooms. This recognition on the part of the city is related to its agreement to decriminalize sitting on the sidewalk, finding approximately $750,000 for the entire program, part of which would go to provide an alternative, in the form of a drop in center of sorts, to this reality of homeless life.

Also in the new provision, is a determination to establish the availability of more public restrooms to counter the glaring lack of these essential facilities for people who have no alternative. In the account I read most recently about this pressing need, doubts were expressed that the restrooms could last long, because it was thought that they would quickly be destroyed by some of the people out there with the worst problems. Seattle's discouraging experience with the auto toilets was mentioned to illustrate this concern.

It's commendable to finally recognize and be willing to supply desperately needed essential facilities to members of the public with few or no other means, but it is not wise in doing so, to stop short of providing the circumstances that will ensure their continued availability to the people who need them. At this moment, I'm not exactly sure what arrangements would be appropriate and effective, except that somehow, these planned restrooms need to be supervised with a better level of supervision than currently available downtown public restrooms receive.

This probably calls for some kind of attendant to be regularly present, to go into the facility when it's unoccupied, and to ensure it's consistently kept clean for the next person.

Obviously, hiring qualified persons to do this job, may be more complicated than it seems. Maybe that's why the team that put this most recent provision together didn't decide to accompany the planned restroom facilities with such a quality contol measure. It seems like it's important to try and persuade the city to go just a bit further, and take the neccessary step to ensure, once these new facilities are available to those so desperately in need of them, that they will continue to be available to them for as long as they're needed.

good thought, st 12.Dec.2006 09:16


When I first read about all of this new policy regarding the homeless in Portland, I thought it sounded pretty good. But then, as you say, what is going to happen in a month or so? People are just people after all, and the unexpected will happen. In a perfect world, these issues would not even have to be discussed. Soon, I fear, "things won't work out well" and then the door is open to "finally get those homeless off the streets". ??? I mean...."look...we have given them all of these good things and look what they have done. There is just no excuse." No, there isn't. There is no excuse for the lack of planning. I am hoping that these new policies will bring a better atmosphere for the homeless downtown, but I am a little jaded by what I have seen in the past. The businesses just want the homeless to go away. That is the bottom line.

maybe they could follow 12.Dec.2006 13:45

Tacoma's downtown library policy

The Tacoma Downtown Library is a public space and it has PUBLIC restrooms indoors. There is one for women and one for men, although they are not single occupancy type restrooms, having several stalls in each.

They installed locked "drop box" metal containers in each stall with an open slot on the top. Then they installed a security desk outside the entrance to the restrooms. Only one person is allowed in each restroom at a time. After an individual departs, the security officer enters the restroom and unlocks each drop box to see if a used drug needle was deposited. I have no idea what they do if they find one, but they probably check their security camera tapes to further identify the person that placed it there. I am amazed that they have not taken it a step further by actually sending a security officer in to observe someone sitting on the toilet or test the specimen you deposit in the toilet to verify if you are on drugs or not. I'm not sure why they stopped short of requesting identification prior to toilet use.

Maybe Portland could hire armed guards and position tanks outside their new restrooms to curb terroristic SHIT. I have to applaud the Tacoma Library for providing me with my first fascist pee stop. I also know there are many mothers who are proud to say their sons guard toilets.

up with france 13.Dec.2006 00:20


in paris, they have public toilets that self santitize after every use. no, really! you enter a gleaming, space-age, streetside toilet--do your thing, and when you leave the door slides closed behind you and everything gets auto cleaned. it used to cost 2 francs; now it's free.

What can Portland do? 13.Dec.2006 00:35


To:"Tacoma's downtown library policy"

I'm not sure how much to believe about what you said regarding Tacoma's downtown public library restrooms. If it wasn't all totally cynical, bitter nonsense, and the Tacoma library really does have this kind of arrangement (security desk outside the restrooms),that's pretty extreme.

Reliably clean, functional restrooms for Portland will probably require some sort of security. What else can you do? How can a public restroom be available for use when it's been thrown up in, feces soiled, locked forever because someone's nodding off in an overdose, or physically destroyed by somebody for whatever reason?

Someome probably will have to be near the facilities to help insure that the greatest possible number of people that need such facilities really will find them available as needed.

the truth 13.Dec.2006 12:17


What I described occurring at the Tacoma Downtown Library is true and I did personally experience it. You are correct, it is EXTREME. I have not viewed that at other Tacoma Libraries, only the main one.

In contrast, Seattle is a much larger population center than Tacoma and one will not find security guards monitoring the restrooms in the Seattle Main Downtown Library. Seattle also has a larger drug injecting population than Tacoma.

Traveler noted the public restrooms in Paris and I've used them also. They do self-clean.

Portland should put the public restrooms in and if they opt to monitor them, I would advocate for an attendant, as mentioned in the original article, but not a security guard.

Seattle's experience and what Portland could possibly do 13.Dec.2006 14:02


To "Tacoma..." Thanks for your serious confirmation of your personal experience with the restroom arrangement at the Tacoma Downtown Library. I would think the Portland team involved with providing Portland's expanded public restroom availability would want to be aware of the circumstances surrounding the Tacoma library's decision to handle their situation in that manner.

I tried to find a fairly lengthy article I read a couple months ago about Seattle's experience with the auto toilets, but no luck. I found the following instead, which is short, but hits some of the basic points.


What I expect Portland might come up with in terms of a public restrooms attendant, would be something like the information people you see running around in the green jackets and aussie hats. The restrooms would have posted conditions of use policies that the attendants would be authorized to personally inform people of as needed. They'd have radios for occasions where a person declined, or was incapable of recognizing the conditions for use. So, it would likely not be a security type person in attendance, but the job would likely involve some security responsibilities.

I imagine it might be a tough position to fill, because the job requires someone with a high degree of integrity and ethics, who is prepared to deal with some of the rough stuff that humanity can dish out.

bathrooms for all 13.Dec.2006 14:27

Perplexed in Old Town

Couldn't we offer bathrooms to all and let police patrol them in whatever way they normally patrol public restrooms at parks? Homelessness isn't a crime. Needing to use a restroom right away isn't the crime, after all. Shooting up is a crime whether you're homeless or not. Urinating in the doorway of my building in Old Town is not OK whether you're homeless, drunk, or just in a hurry.

seattle's 13.Dec.2006 18:29


google: seattle public toilet program
and you will come up with a variety of informative articles
also, Sandy Krause of Seattle Public Utilities runs the program and may be an interesting contact

Why good public restrooms need something different than police patrols 14.Dec.2006 17:23


To "Perplexed...": Thanks for expressing your concern that the use of basic amenities, such as public restrooms, by homeless people, not be accompanied by an air of suspicion on the part of people who might be employed by the city to maintain their accessibility to all that need them.

I imagine it will be hard to kmow just exactly what kind of care and management the intended public restrooms will need, until the city decides where they'll be located and who, a little more specifically, by virtue of that fact, that the facilities will be serving.

There's two restrooms I can think of that I've visited personally. One is in Ankeny Park on West Burnside. It's just a one person facility, but it's not a place I ever feel very safe using. The other I know of is at, I think, 5th Av in Lownsdale Park. It has facilities for 5 people. Its design allows the door to be open at all times yet still provide moderate privacy, so it feels like a fairly safe place to be.

What I've noticed about both places though, is that not many people seem to be using them. I imagine, more than from safety issues, that this is beccause they're located away from where the people who need them tend to be. No doubt, one of the first things the city will have to do before siting more public restrooms, is to decide where they'll have to be to best serve those that need them.

They'll know they've got this right when the facilities installed are being used by significant numbers of people, and when signs of bathroom use in doorways, shrubbery, etc., noticeably declines.

Of course the possibility is, that with more public restrooms located in places where more people are present that need to use them, the greater the likelyhood that the facilities will be abused or trashed by somebody. Unfortunately, this seems to be characteristic of our society. It stands to reason that the presence of an attendant would help keep this from happening. Even though seemingly made of very rugged materials, the Lownsdale Park restrooms are frequently damaged, in part because these facilities are not attended.

This is why it seems likely that consistently available, functional, safe public restroom facilities will stand a greater chance of success from closer supervision than the police could provide them with in the usual patrol they extend to the parks.

The fall of Dominoes [] [] [] \\ \\ \\ 15.Dec.2006 23:52

dancing in pain, Ahhh, Ahhh

It should be noted that Portland effectively eliminated a number of semi public stalls from the pool by recent posting of guards at front of the Portland Building and City Hall. This may have rendered the situation critical. Just another way that the effects of 9-11 keep on multiplying and making our lives miserable...

real life accounts of reasonable frustration help 16.Dec.2006 02:39


To: "dancing...": Give some more details on that please. Are you saying there's public restrooms on the west side of the Portlamd Building where you've had this experience? City Hall fronts east on the park. I don't know of any stalls there, so if you're referring to the bushes across the street, naturally that wouldn't go over very well.

I've written to one of the people on the SAFE (Street Access for Everyone ....(that's the city organized, diversely representative workgroup that worked that created this proposal), inquiring about details on enhanced public restroom accessibility, but they're on vacation until Monday the 19th.

I think people in the workgroup charged with the responsibility for developing a sound policy for enhanced public restroom accessibility, would want to know real life experiences of those people that rely on such facilities.

jobs 18.Dec.2006 00:36

Mr. WorthIt

Maybe the cleaning and patrolling and/or monitoring for res room abuse could be achieved by creating "paid jobs" that help facilitate this program and in a way help provide the services it will require.

Seem this could be a win-win situation
Service, jobs, and bathroom facilities!

help 18.Dec.2006 19:58


This is a homeless problem pure and simple. It is a problem we need to do someting about. I agree the Tacoma farce is a little over the top. The arguement that the public bathrooms would be vandalized and people would use them to either have sex or inject drugs is valid. What to do? We need to be realistic and possibly have a volunteer to maintain the restrooms if the city will build them. If there is no volunteer, the restrooms don't open that day. Everyone complains about needles, urine and feces in public, including city council members. If we all put up and shut up, we can solve the problem without having an overbearing system that dehumanizes the most human acts. Perhaps an agency such as Outside/In can sponser this and be it's voice. I for one think that it is time to quit complaining about either side of the issue and do something about it. I will contact the outside in and see if they are interested in spearheading this idea. People will quit pooping on sidewalks if they are given a place to poop.

There is a common thread that extends across humanity - We all have to shit 30.Jan.2007 21:51


I have lived in Portland Oregon for most of my life. I'm not a transient a vagrant. When I am downtown I'm usually there for the purpose of shopping. I am very clean cut and caucasian (although this should not actually matter, it does) but I have had trouble in the past finding a place I can go to the bathroom. It's outrageous for any large city to lack
basic hygienic infrastructure.

The argument goes; "We don't want non-paying customers harrassing or discouraging our patrons." Well then get off your ass and demand your city provide a place for the homeless to go. The arguement that facilities that were available in the past were used improperly is absurd. Yes, public bathrooms are used improperly, but having no facilities criminalizes the homeless for having to relieve themselvs. Putting bathrooms out of the reach of the homeless is discrimination. The intended result of ridding Portland of "undesireables" will not happen, they will go to the bathroom, it will just be on your business wall or on your property.

The business community must demand their city makes available the necessary facilities which all people need. This is just one problem that needs to be addressed among many, let's not forget that the city of Portland has an open policy of outlawing homelessness and regularly harrasses the most vulnerable of our society. I can personally attest to the difficulty in finding a place to go to the bathroom when I'm visiting downtown-on several occasions I have had to "purchase" something in order to gain access to their facilities. If businesses are sick of providing the services their city should be providing then perhaps they should get off their collective asses and do something about it.

Portland's public toilets 13.Jul.2007 17:24

an average citizen

$750,000!!!!!! That's more than 4 times the average house costs! Put in 4 portable public toilets. Employ the homeless people (who are up graveyard shift anyway)to monitor the toilets on 2 hour shifts, since they are the ones that use them. Use the prisoners to do public service and clean the toilets. It seems to me that would still be cheaper than $750,000! If they are going to waste that much money I would like to put in my bid for a new house and car.