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Somewhere to go

January 5, 2011 - 3:46 pm

I’d hoped to include in my story this week about funding for Downtown port-o-potties a little more information about what’s going on with the Portland Loos.

Quick background: Invented by a Portland City Commissioner, the loos are solar-powered, stainless-steel bathroom kiosks. Four have been installed in Portland so far. They cost roughly $150,000 each and $1,200 a month to maintain. Here’s what one looks like:

Girls Think Tank—a nonprofit started by a group of female attorneys in 2006 that’s since expanded to include any San Diegan interested in public service—spent several months lobbying the City Council to give the Loos a look. City Councilmember Marti Emerald sent this May 25 memo pointing out that CCDC was making $900,000 available for one public restroom in Little Italy. “It seems possible we could install one Loo in Little Italy and five or more Loos throughout Downtown for the same or less cost.”

On Oct. 18, the City Council directed the Centre City Development Corp., which oversees Downtown redevelopment, to install four Loos—two in Little Italy and two in East Village (at 14th and Imperial and 11th and Market). Downtown’s business improvement district agreed to pay for the maintenance. The BID currently pays $1 million a year to power-wash sidewalks and the hope is that public restrooms will help cut back on the frequency and cost. On Nov. 17, CCDC’s board authorized the purchase of the two East Village Loos with the goal of having them installed by September. Little Italy’s asked that the purchase of theirs be delayed until some design aspects can be worked out.

As I reported way back in 2005, the city’s been discussing the need for more public restrooms downtown for at least a decade. The fact that GTT found the solution is pretty impressive.

Girls Think Tank president Rachel Jensen told me that David Ross’ efforts to get temporary port-o-potties in East Village inspired GTT’s “Basic Dignity” campaign and motivated them to advocate for the Loos.

“What we were really doing is building on the work that David Ross had done over the years and along with David, and with our Basic Dignity coalition, taking it to a permanent level,” she said.

I’ve known Ross for three years now and I’ve tagged along a few times when he goes around handing out water, food and tents to “his people,” as he calls them. Ross’ ability to connect with folks on the street is pretty incredible. Jensen agrees. “It’s mostly his street cred, why we work with him. He really does see people living out on the streets as humans and allies rather than people to give handouts too, and that’s aligned with our vision and our model for organizing.

“He kind of puts everybody else to shame in terms of walking the walk,” she added. “That persistence is a passion of his and it’s something that’s very noble.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. jimtaco permalink
    January 8, 2011 - 10:13 am 10:13 am

    This is a great story. Thank you so much for your consistency with community advocates for the poorest in our land of riches.

    I am amazed that there will be two of these expensive toilets in Little Italy! Since they are being built to provide options for the homeless then we definitely need to get them directions to where they will be. Oh, but Little Italy is notorious for how they treat homeless people and for being unwilling to have homeless people in their business area… So, are these toilets for other people?

    As the social worker and director for a service agency in downtown, I can tell you that people within 4 blocks of city hall need bathroom privileges somewhere and the long lines in front of the one set of restrooms is too much for sick people.


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