Peer-run “equal access” to water, bathrooms, showers, and laundry
Equitable access to bathrooms, showers, and laundry play an important role in the health and well-being of both our housed and unhoused neighbors. Exclusion from use of city water, sewer, and trash services — as well as discrimination our neighbors experiencing houselessness face from businesses prohibiting bathroom use– are significant risk factors contributing to Portland residents’ vulnerability to outbreaks in deadly diseases. Specifically, inequitable access to hygiene helps spread Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA); fungal, strep and staph infections and skin infections (e.g. scabies, head lice and body lice), Hepatitis A, B, and C outbreaks as well as bacterial and viral diseases, as the City of San Diego recently discovered with their Hepatitis outbreak. (Hawash, Hygiene Project Report 2016; San Diego “City’s Vaccination, Sanitation & Education Efforts” 9/22/2017)
According to a broader 2016 hygiene survey carried out by Lisa Hawash only a handful of places offer showers or laundry in all of Portland (Transition Project, Inc., JOIN , Red Door (St Andre Bessette), Rose Haven, Union Gospel Mission, and the Portland Rescue Mission). People frequently wait half a day or more to access these facilities only to be turned away when they reach capacity. Most only operate Monday – Friday between 9 and 5 with limited, if any, weekend hours. (Hawash, “Hygiene Project Report” 2016
Equitable access to bathrooms, laundry, and showers would have the following community benefits: (1) reduction of biohazard exposure (2) access to critical health-sustaining sanitation services for homeless individuals (3) greater enjoyment of public spaces by housed and unhoused residents alike (4) mitigation of potential risk from environmental and public health hazards (4) reduction of costs associated with cleaning human waste off the streets. We know from experiences in Goose Hollow and in San Diego — where they are well maintained — port-o-potties, especially nicely decorated ones, are generally used and treated respectfully.
We propose the strategic placement of two outdoor painted mural port-o-potties. One a few blocks South of Burnside and the other a few blocks South of Hawthorne. Additional port-o-potties would be available at the site of the sanctioned peer-run encampment, ideally located at the Gideon Triangle. The two port-o-potties would be tended by trained attendants from 7AM -4PM to offer health, safety, and cleanliness to users. These would be intermittently visited and stocked in the evenings by trauma-informed advocates (replacing the security model of patrolling).
The other two attendants would work with participating businesses opening bathrooms and showers to our neighbors experiencing houselessness, providing both a helpful presence to unhoused users and ongoing training and problem-solving to staff. In addition to lending a subsidized additional hand to businesses with greeting and cleaning, the hygiene program would help stock participating bathrooms.
We additionally recommend the creation or refurbishing of a neighborhood community center with lockers, bathrooms, shower units, and laundry open to all, alongside robust and welcoming programming encouraging shared housed/unhoused interactions and use of space. Such a program could be modeled on SHARE’s center in Vancouver, Wa and Seattle’s Urban Rest Stops. In the meantime we believe a mobile PDX Pitstop style unit (two of which we understand are under construction by a private group) is a good interim measure.
(Based on Nickelsville-Ballard Budget in Seattle)
Peer-run waste management program to complement the current Central City Concern program
In Portland, it is illegal to dispose of one’s household waste in private or public garbage cans and dumpsters. Without facilities or services for legally disposing of their waste, many houseless residents struggle to manage their waste. The ability and desire to maintain clean spaces is undermined by frequent sweeps, which are often driven by public One Point of Contact complaints over cleanliness concerns (despite that, according to Metro RID, 78% of illegally dumped waste in the region is attributed to housed residents). In this cyclical way, people experiencing homelessness are both criminalized and stigmatized by the waste they generate. Central City Concern has a program to provide waste management services to camps that receive complaints through the city’s “One Point of Contact System”; however, we also need options for homeless camps that manage to avoid reporting. Such an option would be best devised and implemented with the participation of people experiencing homelessness. A broader initiative to provide training and low barrier work opportunities for can and bottle recyclers is already in the works, and slated to begin this Spring with Trash for Peace. With additional support, this initiative could also work to devise income-generation opportunities for peer-run waste management services within the houseless community- likely through approaches similar to the city of Belo Horizonte’s “Waste and Citizenship” forum.