Loos

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re­stroom is there.”

Den­ver has two bath­rooms that move around the city. An on­line map shows where they are and when they’re open.

Pub­lic works of­fi­cials are pay­ing at­ten­tion to how much use the bath­rooms get in hopes of build­ing per­ma­nent re­strooms at key lo­ca­tions. They’ve also re­opened some bath­rooms in pub­lic parks.

On an aver­age sum­mer day about 170 peo­ple use the Tre­mont Place bath­room. Of­fi­cials say they are re­ceiv­ing fewer com­plaints about hu­man waste in the sur­round­ing area and that use of the bath­room is split evenly be­tween tourists, down­town work­ers and home­less peo­ple.

“A cou­ple of Sun­days ago there were 250, and there is some­times more,” said Daryl Pat­ton, who tends to the Tre­mont Place bath­room. “The flow of peo­ple is un­be­liev­able.” Mak­ing the Case Groups like PHLUSH and the Amer­i­can Re­stroom As­so­ci­a­tion, which ad­vo­cates for clean, wellde­signed re­strooms, push pol­i­cy­mak­ers to make re­strooms more avail­able and ac­ces­si­ble. But get­ting them to take the is­sue se­ri­ously can be a chal­lenge, McCreary said.

“There will be peo­ple who can­not talk about it,” she said. “There will be peo­ple who can­not talk about it over lunch.”

To con­vince city lead­ers that bath­rooms are needed, ad­vo­cates some­times map re­ports of pub­lic defe­ca­tion.

“You start by doc­u­ment­ing need, and you usu­ally do that by walk­ing around and show­ing that there are not enough [bath­rooms],” and how much it costs to clean up, McCreary said.

Some in gov­ern­ment worry the re­strooms, es­pe­cially if they are not staffed, will at­tract van­dal­ism, crime and drug use.

Den­ver’s mo­bile bath­rooms have sy­ringe dis­posal boxes meant for peo­ple with di­a­betes and other con­di­tions. City of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge that drug users may be shoot­ing up in­side. But at­ten­dants check on peo­ple who are in there too long, and there have been no over­doses, Casias said.

The Cost of Do­ing Busi­ness

Pub­lic com­fort sta­tions once pop­u­lated cities, but as city dwellers turned to the sub­urbs for hous­ing and shop­ping in the mid-20th cen­tury, the bath­rooms were van­dal­ized and ne­glected and cities closed the fa­cil­i­ties. After the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, of­fice and apart­ment build­ings stepped up se­cu­rity, lim­it­ing ac­cess to their fa­cil­i­ties.

“There started to be a prob­lem,” said Robert Brubaker, founder of the Amer­i­can Re­stroom As­so­ci­a­tion. “Peo­ple hes­i­tated to go to cer­tain places be­cause there was a fear they wouldn’t find proper san­i­ta­tion.”

Now cities are re­open­ing bath­rooms and build­ing new ones that fit in with mod­ern architecture.

Evan Mad­den, of Port­land Loo Inc., says his com­pany’s side­walk bath­rooms are meant to be an al­ter­na­tive to older, dirty, smelly pub­lic re­strooms. They have small open­ings at the top and bot­tom, which al­low passersby and po­lice to see whether some­one is us­ing the unit and sniff out il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity that may be go­ing on.

“You don’t have com­plete pri­vacy, and it’s not sup­posed to be com­fort­able,” he said. “It’s cold, sounds pass through and every­thing.”

Un­like Den­ver’s re­strooms, the Port­land Loo is de­signed to be used with­out an at­ten­dant. Es­sen­tially, it is a stan­dard re­stroom stall trans­ported to the street.

Though the bath­room costs more than $100,000 to pur­chase and in­stall, its metal con­struc­tion makes it cheap and easy to clean. A non­profit charges the city $18,600 a year to clean its eight Loos.

In Den­ver, it costs al­most that much — $15,000 — to staff and main­tain a por­ta­ble re­stroom for one month. Much of that cost goes to pay­ing the at­ten­dant.

Den­ver of­fi­cials say hav­ing the at­ten­dant is crit­i­cal to the re­stroom’s suc­cess and do not plan to al­ter that model. Other cities have strug­gled to main­tain unat­tended, self-sus­tain­ing bath­rooms.

After spend­ing $5 mil­lion on five self­clean­ing re­strooms, Seattle sold them for just $12,000 on eBay. The unat­tended bath­rooms be­came havens for il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity and the self­clean­ing mech­a­nisms got clogged, ul­ti­mately cost­ing the city more than it in­tended to spend on up­keep and main­te­nance.

There was too much au­to­ma­tion, Mad­den said. And its pro­gram failed be­cause there were “too many mov­ing parts that were van­dal­ized, too much pri­vacy for drug use and pros­ti­tu­tion.”

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