I was working in the City’s COVID-19 Emergency Coordination Center when staff announced that over 100 emergency mobile restrooms and hygiene stations would be placed around Portland. I remember how excited we all were. Giving end-of-day shout outs in the emergency center is customary, and that day multiple accolades went to the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, Commissioner Hardesty’s Office, Mayor Wheeler’s Office and the Joint Office of Homeless Services. These teams worked feverishly to get life-saving resources out into the community, and we had reason to celebrate.
Now, here we are, a few months later and staff are no longer excited. We feel sad, exhausted and defeated. Our offices are being inundated with enraged calls, emails and texts. Staff are receiving profanity-laden threats. Furious messages are being sent to the Mayor, Chief Administrative Officer and program staff. Online groups were formed, email distribution groups were created. Flyers were made and distributed telling people to demand the City remove porta potties from their neighborhood. Individuals have threatened to vandalize, tip, lock and steal these portable bathrooms…and some have succeeded.
This is not okay.
As a Public Information Officer for the City of Portland, it’s my job to get factual, impartial information out into the community. But this time it’s also personal. This time I’m upset and disappointed in my community.
This is not the Portland I know.
Fact: The United Nations has declared that access to restrooms is a basic human right.
Fact: The Centers for Disease Control have stated that houseless individuals having access to restrooms is crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Fact: Over 235,000 Americans have died because of COVID-19.
Opinion: If you’re complaining about porta-potties being placed in your neighborhood, please take a minute to examine your privilege. While you’re making angry demands from the comfort of a home with functional plumbing, houseless community members are looking for a place to take care of basic bodily functions.
Portland, we need to do better.
A human being’s right to access a restroom is more important than your preference to not have one in your neighborhood.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Access to restrooms and proper hygiene is a human right at all times. During a health crisis, it is a life-saving necessity.
Also, these restrooms aren’t just for our houseless community members. They serve our entire community. The majority of public restrooms are closed right now. Delivery drivers, postal workers, construction workers and joggers need restrooms, too. Having proper receptacles for human waste protects everyone’s health and safety.
So Portland, I need your help on this one. We need to be united in showing support for these critical resources - no matter where they are located. Whether you see them or not, people experiencing homelessness live everywhere. We have placed porta potties in a variety of locations to serve the greatest number of people possible - and this is a good thing.
Proper hygiene is a human right. COVID-19 is killing people. Bathrooms save lives.
Please help spread the word.
-Heather Hafer, OMF Public Information Officer