Once home to Occupy Eugene and soon to be the location of the covered “WJ Skatepark and Urban Plaza,” Washington-Jefferson Park will also be the location of a new 24-hour bathroom. Sanitary bathroom access, like a safe place to sleep, has been called a human right by homeless advocates.
The new bathroom is not unlike the Portland Loo, a bathroom with constant access but without the pitfalls of most public potties. Eugene’s new bathroom is 24 hours, unisex, has an attached wash system and is open air, but “secure enough someone can’t be spied on, yet you can see enough to know if it’s being used as a restroom or something else,” according to Neil Bjorklund, the Eugene Parks and Open Space planning manager.
Unlike the Portland Loo, this new bathroom is not a standalone compartment. It is attached to two other traditional male and female bathrooms, which will not be open 24 hours.
The Portland Loo project has drawn some fire for the high cost of cleaning, but it’s also praised for being easy to clean and impossible to destroy. Portland sells it to other cities for $90,000 each.
Eugene’s singular public 24-hour stall rewards local group SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep) in its fight for the homeless, who have nowhere to sleep or go to the bathroom.
The “poo” issue came to public attention after SLEEPS protesters won a case that upheld that closing of the Wayne Morse Speech Plaza based on allegations of feces was unconstitutional.
On Sept. 4 the plaza was shut down again, this time by Lane County citing concerns that the SLEEPS protest was a “significant health and safety hazard.” SLEEPS, which maintains a roster of its members, says they did not urinate and defecate in the plaza.
Although this new stall is a step in the right direction there have been no talks about expanding the project.
“As a general rule, we don’t put bathrooms in parks,” Bjorklund says, mostly due to high cost of installation and maintenance. “They also bring problems with drug dealing and prostitution. They’re an attractive nuisance.”
“We have thousands of homeless in the city, and they’re all hiding, and they can’t push a magic button to make them not need a bathroom between 11 and 7,” homeless advocate Alley Valkyrie says.
She says these issues are more reason for low maintenance, open-air compartments like the Portland Loo. “It’s not crazy, it’s not liberal, it’s just a place to go to the bathroom. It’s a public health epidemic,” she says.