Public health and human service officials work with infrastructure teams to provide more public toilets as homelessness numbers continue to increase.
Homelessness is on the rise in the midst of a nationwide affordable housing crisis. Increasingly local public health and public works officials have been faced with the challenge of making sure unhomed individuals are able to properly dispose of bodily waste. According to a Route-Fifty article states are searching for creative ways to curb public urination and defecation that can become a severe public health risk.
From the article:
The lack of bathrooms is not a new problem, but the urgency to deal with it has only grown more acute as homelessness rates are on the rise in most cities—climbing nationally by about 6% since 2017, according to data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. A side effect of too few public restrooms and more unhoused people is that public urination and defecation have also risen.
As far as public facilities in Maryland, the state offers six public toilets per 100,000 people, which is two toilets below the national average. Additionally, according to the Public Toilet Index, the U.S. is tied with Botswana for number of bathrooms per capita and ranks 31st on the global listing. It is important to consider as well that the vast majority of these facilities are not open 24 hours a day.
Some locations have suffered Hepatitis A outbreaks. With a potential for the disease to spread rapidly and even claim the lives of vulnerable populations, local governments are making an effort to deploy hand-washing stations and portable toilets. Some locations are even deploying maps, like the one found in San Diego, to assess the location and condition of existing toilets as well as guide potential users to their locations.
An advocate from the American Restroom Association:
“It is clearly a public health issue,” said Soifer, adding that his group lobbied the Biden administration to classify public sanitation as a public health issue and put responsibility for it under the Department of Health and Human Services. “For the last 30 years, inadequate public restroom facilities have been growing. It has reached a tipping point.”
Portland Loo and Maryland-based, Throne Labs, are just a couple of the companies moving into the market. Similar to portable toilets, these facilities fulfill more basic sanitation requirements and therefore maintain a longer shelf-life for the localities looking to roll them out. The Portland Loo currently in Hyattsville, Maryland, according to local officials, cost $225,000 to purchase and have installed.