With relief for some and confusion for others, Sacramento on Monday parked its first portable restroom in the River District neighborhood that hosts the city’s largest homeless population.
“It’s cool. What is it?” asked Tim Campbell, 32, a recent Portland transplant who was lying on the sidewalk nearby reading a book of prayers. Campbell, like many other homeless people who frequent the area, was unaware of the purpose of the trailer.
But like most of those who came by for more information, he was supportive when informed.
“I’m kind of looking forward to not seeing pieces of dung everywhere,” said Phillip A., 34, who stays in the Discovery Park area and was one of the first to try the toilets. He deemed them “low on the water pressure but otherwise a really nice experience.”
The unit is a six-month pilot project funded by the City Council with a budget of $100,000. About $35,000 was paid for the restroom facility, which was purchased used, said Councilman Jeff Harris, who championed the project. Harris added that its launch was delayed a week to wrap the trailer in a photo image of the river area and bridge to “doll it up.”
“You get one chance to make a first impression and I thought it would be more successful,” he said.
The trailer has three air-conditioned stalls, one ADA compliant, each with a sink. Staffed by two attendants during its open hours seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., it also serves as a dog waste and needle collection site. For the debut, the stalls were decorated with vases of fake flowers and plants, and heavy doses of air freshener.
“It smells beautiful in there,” said Lonnie Morning, 52, who recently relocated from Oak Park to be closer to service facilities, after checking it out late in the afternoon. “A lot of people go on the sidewalk and in the street. It’s disgusting,” he said. “It’s not because they want to be disgusting. It’s because there is nowhere to go.”
That reality, said Harris, is what makes the facility more than a convenience. A collection of homeless service providers coupled with a push to curb camping along the American River Parkway has added even greater numbers of transients to an area already heavily affected. Harris said the project is designed to create cleaner streets and serve as another touch point for homeless people to engage with city service providers.
He thinks it will become “a little piece of security and safety and community” for those who frequent it.
“This is really a social project to affect positive change for the homeless community and the business community,” he said. “If you have to relieve yourself and you have to do it on the street you lose dignity, so there is a compassion piece and a practical piece … so this bathroom addressed both.”