SEATTLE — More public restrooms are needed to handle the unsheltered homeless population in Seattle. That’s according to the Seattle City Auditor, who presented the quarterly report on the city’s Navigation Team to a City Council committee on Tuesday.
With a population of roughly 725,000, the city only has six public toilets that are open 24/7. The report says the lack of public toilets was extremely limiting to the Navigation Team as it deals with nearly 4,000 people considered unsheltered in the city.
“We don't have enough right now,” said City Auditor David Jones. “But finding how this compares to other cities posed a problem."
His office looked to Los Angeles and a 2017 audit of Skid Row. The City used standards set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees when coming up with ratio of toilets to people. The UNHCR sanitation standards, according to the auditor, is at least one toilet for every 20 persons.
“So if you use that metric and apply it to Seattle we need 224 of those bathrooms and right now we have six,” said Jones.
The auditor found health and safety issues at Seattle’s 24/7 public toilets. It found the two "comfort stations” at Green Lake Park had lights, running water, flushing toilets and were clean and well maintained. In contrast, the auditor found the four portable toilets provided by the Department of Human Services where poorly lit and had no running water.
It also found three of the four portable toilets were damaged in a way that "adversely affected their usability."
The report suggested the City look into Mobile Pit Stops operated by the City of San Francisco and in other major cities. These are portable toilets on trailers that can be moved to locations where there are urine and feces problems.
“And let's have really good signage to make it clear what they're for and who can use them,” said Jones. “And let's have them staffed by someone to keep them clean and provide some form of security."
Several people who say they routinely hang out at the 24/7 portable toilet at the Lake City Mini Park like the idea of someone manning the toilets because of drug use inside.
“They are doing whatever they are doing in there, we try to wait to use the bathrooms but they don't let us in,” said Clarissa Figlestahler, who’s live on the streets of Lake City for three years.
In 2006, the City spent $5 million on five automated toilets that turned into drug dens. Those toilets were offered up on eBay and are gone.
But at the Ballard Commons, where there’s one of the four 24/7 portable toilets, the City will be installing a Portland Loo before summer begins. The fixed metallic bathroom made popular by the City of Portland is marketed as graffiti-proof and easily cleaned with a hose. The City is spending $550,000 for the project at the Commons.
But there’s always Starbucks. The coffee giant has a open bathroom policy where people can use the facilities without making a purchase. The location app Foursquare reportedly shows 225 Starbucks stores in Seattle. That’s one more than the minimum standard set by the United Nations.
Unfortunately for the City, Starbucks toilets don’t count.