- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Salem Mayor Anna Peterson said she heard one urgent message when she volunteered to work at a warming shelter for homeless people this winter.

“They didn’t ask me for money. They didn’t ask me for food. They didn’t ask me for a place to live,” she said. “They only asked for toilets.”

So Peterson pledged in her State of the City speech earlier this year to get toilets installed downtown for homeless people, and she plans two public meetings next week on the question, the Salem Statesman Journal (https://stjr.nl/1ghI9x6) reported.

“I was struck by how basic a need that is, and we haven’t really taken it seriously at the city,” she said.

Peterson and others say they’re addressing questions about how to place the facilities and how to pay for them. City employees are looking at what’s worked elsewhere.

To rent and maintain a portable bathroom costs about $10,560 per year, according to figures from Salem Parks Operation and Planning Manager Keith Keever.

Some point to Portland’s success in designing public toilets. The Portland Loo has slats on the bottom and top so law enforcement officers can monitor them while maintaining privacy. A spigot on the outside discourages using the bathroom as a laundry or shower.

Portland has sold the loos to two cities in British Columbia as well, but the loos cost $90,000 each and $20,000 or so a year to maintain. The Roseburg company Romtec Inc. makes a similar design called the Sidewalk Restroom for about half the price.

Peterson said the bathrooms need to be placed so they don’t become a nuisance and should be part of a larger conversation about homeless people.

Church leaders, business owners and people in in the criminal justice system see benefits in reducing the amount of human waste in public places and reducing the costs of enforcing laws against urinating and defecating in public.

Public toilets, said downtown property owner Paul Gehlar, are “not the whole solution. It would at least offer a little bit of humanity and has potential for helping out businesses downtown.”

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Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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