We need public bathrooms in our downtown. Our city council, after years of talking, can’t seem to take action. Why?
The Olympia City Council is, AGAIN, talking about public bathrooms Downtown. This is the eleventy-seventh time they’ve talked about it in the last 4 years alone. Eleventy-seven conversations later and we still don’t have a public bathroom. We’re actually, seemingly, no closer to a public bathroom. [Note: I refuse to acknowledge a portapotty as a viable solution, and I won’t even address it]
For years, our Downtown Business community has been asking for a solution to the lack of public restrooms for visitors to Downtown. With no public option, people are forced to go into businesses and ask to use the bathroom. Most of our businesses just aren’t equipped with facilities that can be made public. So, the pregnant woman having a bathroom emergency might have to go three or four blocks before finding a bathroom she can use. A person with a mobility impairment who uses a wheelchair, might just be out of luck completely. Seniors, who make up a large chunk of the population of our Downtown given our senior housing and the senior center being located in the core, sometimes also need readily available and accessible bathroom facilities, and having to walk blocks to find one can be challenging, if not impossible. These three examples alone should be enough of a case to justify immediately dedicating funding to a public bathroom.
But from what I’ve observed, the city council hasn’t been talking about those folks. The conversation has focused on scapegoating “homeless people” – easy and careless generalizations are at the center of the debate – the underlying myth being that all homeless people are crude, dangerous, dirty, and defecate everywhere. This flies in the face of every study on human behavior that shows that most folks are just like most folks – there are some outliers who have extreme behaviors for one reason or another, but the average person doesn’t do drugs, rob people, or crap in alleys.
This is the reason no progress has been made. Our city council has made this a singular issue, and are now painted into a corner where action means spending money on dirty homeless people who crap in alleys. [Our mayor even suggested that instead of bathrooms we put more money into cleanup]
I have some familiarity with the data around public defecation. The Downtown Ambassadors’ Clean Team data shows about 50 instances of “antisocial deposits” per month. That’s 1.5 per day. The average person poops once a day, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that most people are going to seek out a bathroom as their first priority, or hold it as long as they can, before dropping trou in an alley with no toilet paper. The point is this: homeless census data (the most recent I could find online) shows around 60 unsheltered individuals on a given night in the city of Olympia. If every unsheltered person were to defecate in an alley once every five days, we’d see 360 per month. If every person did it every day, we’d see 3,000.
The city council isn’t focused on the real issue: Downtowns need public bathrooms that are accessible to everyone, 24 hours a day. Period. We usually always look to best practices in other cities when making planning decisions – but for some reason in this case, we’re out to sea and the fog is thick.