Starting this week, 100 portable toilets will be placed across Portland to support health and hygiene for people experiencing homelessness and improve neighborhood livability.
Expanding bathroom access is part of a suite of actions that the City of Portland is taking to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, which have exacerbated Portland’s challenges with homelessness.
“Addressing homelessness is a top priority of mine, and it comes with continuing challenges that are made more complex by this pandemic,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “While we develop long-term solutions, we’re doing everything possible to protect the health of unsheltered people – and to reduce the impacts on businesses and neighborhoods.”
The City’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program expects to place 25 portable toilets this week in Northwest Portland, Old Town, downtown, Goose Hollow and inner Northeast and Southeast Portland. Over the next several weeks, an additional 75 toilets will be sited across the city, with an emphasis on East Portland and North Portland.
Locations are selected using real-time data about homeless encampments, interviews with people living in encampments, input from City staff, an audit of existing bathroom access and an assessment of human waste in the area. The goal: serving as many people as possible, especially in areas with limited access to bathrooms.
This data-based approach ensures that toilets will be distributed equitably, even when those results challenge perceptions about Portland neighborhoods. For example, Old Town has attracted a lot of attention due to its visible encampments – but the area has more bathrooms per unsheltered person than many other parts of Portland. The need is greatest in East Portland, where approximately 1,500 people live unsheltered with minimal-to-no hygiene access.
“Sanitation access is a crucial life-safety resource,” said Katie Lindsay, a program coordinator for the City’s impact reduction program. “The need for critical infrastructure for our unhoused community members is great in all areas of our city.”
Program staff have already heard from neighborhood advocates who want to see more toilets in their communities – an indication of the high demand to address the impacts of homelessness. After toilets are placed across the city, additional units may be sited in some of the communities receiving service this week.
Nonprofit and public programs that serve unsheltered people have worked together over the past six months to amplify resources as COVID-19 intensified challenges.
Through the Joint Office of Homeless Services, the City has collaborated with dozens of outreach organizations to provide COVID-19 health information and safety supplies to unsheltered people to help them remain in place safely. The City also opened three temporary outdoor emergency shelters where people can follow health guidance, and placed 42 hygiene stations around Portland in areas with high concentrations of encampments.
Still, the number of large encampments has increased – in part because the City paused campsite removals to comply with public health guidance from Multnomah County and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Many business owners and other Portlanders have asked for help in dealing with the impacts, such as blocked sidewalks, extra garbage and human waste.
Campsite removals resumed in July for encampments that pose the highest risk to health and safety. The City’s impact reduction program continues to focus on education, connecting people with available shelter options and providing information to help them comply with health guidelines.