Photo of extra portable toilets put out near the U.S. Capitol Building
credit: Gwynette Smith

Residents experiencing homelessness in the District know too well that finding a restroom can be very difficult, if not impossible, especially in the center of the city.

That’s why in the first legislative session of the year, I introduced a bill that creates a plan for the District to provide public restroom facilities, and create incentives for businesses that make restrooms available to the public.

The idea came from advocates at the People for Fairness Coalition. The group did an analysis of publicly available restrooms downtown and found there were only three clean, safe restrooms open 24/7 in all of Washington, D.C.

Lack of access to public restroom facilities is an issue that affects many residents, but its effects are particularly felt by the homeless and people with unique restroom needs such as pregnant women, people with disabilities and the elderly.

“Lack of access to public restroom facilities is an issue that affects many residents, but its effects are particularly felt by the homeless people.

 

Many residents experiencing homelessness don’t have regular access to a restroom. This can be a particular problem when businesses don’t provide access or a business that does provide access during the day closes for the night. Homeless residents may be fined for urinating in public, aren’t able to pay the fine and then are swept up into the criminal justice system. Others may have embarrassing accidents in public places or on public transit because they can’t find dignified facilities.

Many major world cities in Europe and Asia readily provide public restrooms, and large U.S. cities have increasingly sought to provide restroom access for all. Portland, Oregon has a program called the Portland Loo, which creates permanent private facilities around the city. In London, the city will provide businesses with a financial incentive if they agree to keep their restrooms open to the public.

My bill would authorize a task force to study these kinds of programs and make specific proposals for D.C., such as site location and pricing, which could serve as a roadmap for future installation of public restrooms in the District. It would also explore how we could create incentives for businesses that make restrooms available to the public.

I introduced this bill with the support of fellow Councilmembers Grosso, Silverman, R. White, Allen, and Bonds.

Access to clean water and proper sanitation is something that everyone in the District deserves. This bill will bring us one step closer to making that a reality.

More information about the bill is available online.

Brianne Nadeau is the Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember and the Chair of the Human Services Committee, which has oversight of homelessness issues in the District.