Across Portland, over 120 portable toilets will feature a new, super-sized message: "This is more than a bathroom. It's also a human right."
Signs are being installed this week to discourage people from vandalizing or stealing the units, which are intended to serve people experiencing homelessness and others who need access to public bathrooms. Since placing the portable toilets in response to COVID-19, the City of Portland has faced backlash from some neighbors who oppose having toilets close to their homes.
"I hope these signs will remind people that portable toilets and hand-washing stations are life-saving resources that are desperately needed right now," City Commissioner Dan Ryan said. "We hear so often that the City needs to do more to support our neighbors experiencing homelessness. This effort is a direct response to those who are in need of safe hygiene facilities right now. Vandalism to these units, including tipping, locking, graffitiing and stealing – is an affront to the communities, both housed and unhoused, who are calling on our City to provide these necessary resources.”
Striving to serve as many people as possible, the City selected locations based on a detailed analysis of areas where houseless people are living, interviews with people living in encampments, an audit of existing public restrooms and an assessment of human waste. Follow-up surveys are being conducted to help fine-tune the placement of the toilets.
Critics of the portable toilets have sent angry emails and voicemails to the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, as well as blocking toilet delivery, and vandalizing or stealing the bright red hygiene units. Some people say portable toilets are attracting unwanted odors, noise and activity near their homes.
Since the issue escalated, hundreds of people have also contacted the City to advocate for the portable toilets.
"I support the portable toilets that have been placed in our neighborhood," one community member wrote. "Thank you for this small act of kindness and consideration for the need for a safe place to go to the bathroom. Please continue to provide and support more efforts to promote access and dignity."