By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS-JULY 24 2016) — The City of Miami is rolling out a permanent solution that will help the homeless in Downtown Miami by providing them with portable public bathrooms.
Less than nine months ago, The Pit Stop Pilot Program, a temporary program that provides portable bathrooms for the city’s homeless population, was put into place.
According to officials, the program has been such a success, that it has already resulted in a significant reduction of human waste on the streets of Downtown Miami. Of course, it would be nice if they were open 24/7.
With the program ending, the City of Miami, Miami DDA and Miami-Dade County are partnering to introduce a permanent solution on Downtown’s streets.
It’s not easy-make that next to impossible-to find a portable potty in Downtown Albuquerque. I did a quick unscientific tour recently of Downtown, and found one close to 1st and Copper that was padlocked, and another one at the back of a homeless agency close to 2nd and Mountain in a disgusting condition.
There’s definitely a problem with the unhoused homeless being able to find a place in DT Albuquerque to “do their business.”
In a June 2014 story no longer online but with reader comments still available on Facebook, a KOB reporter asked a city official why the city just couldn’t just put up a couple of porta potties. The answer was that it could “add to the problem.”
Presumably he was thinking of the same answer former city official Pete Dinelli gave years ago when I suggested porta potties: that they can encourage prostitution and drug use/dealing.
While that is possible, I wondered what the experience of some of our Joy Junction guests had been when it comes to finding facilities in Downtown Albuquerque.
We asked them, “Have you ever had problems finding a bathroom downtown? What was your experience? Do you think that porta potties would help out?’
One woman told us she has an ongoing problem whenever she is Downtown. She said it very difficult to find a public bathroom.
She added, “Most places only let customers us their bathroom and the homeless people don’t have any money to be a customer. Yes, porta potties would be good so that the small children and people with bladder problems could use them. My little boys (wet) themselves because there were no bathrooms available.’
Another woman agreed that porta potties would really help. She said if you have an “accident” Downtown it would be very embarrassing.
“Every time I need the bathroom downtown, there is never one available,” she said. “Office buildings usually have security escort you out if ask to use their bathroom. They don’t even care if you have children.”
One woman said she is “very tired” of the lack of restroom facilities Downtown.
She said, “Porta potties would really help those with weak bladders, pregnant females and people who use the bathroom a lot.”
Another guest cut right to the chase, saying “Porta potties would be very beneficial and a better alternative than receiving a ticket or being arrested for indecent exposure.”
One woman said the ongoing problems she’s faced are getting very frustrating. But she had a concern, saying that while porta potties would help, “They are very hot and usually unsanitary.”
One woman said that as a diabetic, she often has to use the bathroom. She continued, “Having access to more bathroom facilities in a city where it seems to be a privilege and not a right is very difficult.”
I asked some of our Facebook friends whether they thought the homeless would appreciate a program similar to that in Miami. Some of the answers were …interesting … to say the least.
Lauren wrote that while playing the proverbial devil’s advocate, “Wouldn’t making life easier on the streets encourage them to stay? The easier you make something the harder it is to get them to change.. Thought the point was to help get them off the streets not encourage them to stay. I get that everyone has to go but that’s what public restrooms are for. I see these becoming vandalized and fought over as shelter.”
Hmm, Lauren. So while the homeless are transition off the streets (that’s for those who can), where do they go to the bathroom? And I can’t see it as very likely that someone would use one of the porta potties as a “shelter.”
Carlos said, “I would like to see them get jobs, rehabilitation programs better than enabling the same behavior.”
So would I, Carlos. But between now and then, the question remains. Where would you like them to go to the bathroom?
I did like Charlotte’s comment. She said, “Maybe give them the opportunity to do that job of keeping their bathrooms and themselves clean and get paid while they’re at it. Give them the opportunity to get paid so they can be able to get themselves off the streets. They gotta start somewhere. We need to help the homeless. You never know. It could happen to one of us or one of loved ones. Wouldn’t you appreciate a little help? Lets try to help them, not kick them while their down.”
So maybe we should take a lesson from Miami. Ken Russell, vice chairman of the Miami city commission and the chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, told WLRN (wlrn.org/post/public-bathroom-project-homeless-will-become-permanent) that providing basic services for the homeless is in the best interest of the city.
“What started off as an initiative for the homeless actually has sort of blossomed into a service for the full city, as well as a jobs program for the homeless,” he said.
Larry Nunnley is a monitor at one of the program’s portable bathrooms. WLRN said Nunnley was once homeless himself and says getting a job through the bathroom program helped him get back on his feet. Although the program was designed to help the homeless in downtown, he says the restrooms are not just for those living on the street.
“Police stop here, bus drivers stop here, people from the government building stop here too,” he said.
Albuquerque, how about it? It could be a better investment of money than those 311 anti-panhandling signs all over Albuquerque, under which many people … panhandle!
Photo Captions: 1) Portable toilets. (via WLRN), 2) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds