money drain
Phoenix To Establish $200K Toilets for Homeless

January 26, 2023

By Corinne Murdock  |

The city of Phoenix plans to establish single-stall, 24/7 street restrooms for the homeless. The first will appear midway this year as part of a pilot launch at a new homeless shelter established in Bradley Ranch in South Phoenix.

Each restroom costs about $135,000 to $150,000 to start, with installation costs ranging up to $50,000. Another potential future site would be at University Park. 

The city announced its initiative several weeks before the Maricopa County Superior Court rejected the city’s petition to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that they’d failed to manage the homeless crisis.

These toilets won’t look like porta-potties; rather, these restrooms will each be contained in a steel, oval building called a “Portland Loo.” These restrooms were contrived by a city of their namesake: Portland, Oregon. The hope was to prevent the homeless from relieving themselves on public streets. 

These restrooms are partially open-air: they have grating at the top and bottom to discourage illegal activity, and the steel type is graffiti-proof. They also have blue lighting to prevent occupants from locating a vein to shoot up drugs. 

However, the intent of the Portland Loo doesn’t appear to match up with its reality. In its hometown, residents view Portland Loos with contempt for their unsanitary quality. Non-promotional pictures taken by journalists and city dwellers reveal that these restrooms aren’t as graffiti-proof or resistant to drug use as marketed. 

Early champions of the Portland Loo outside of Oregon have also run into unforeseen problems. San Diego, California had to remove one of these restrooms in 2016 due to resident complaints. Though the Portland Loos were easier to clean and usually thwarted illicit activity inside its walls, their presence attracted a whole host of undesirables for San Diego locals: criminals, drug users, and general transients.

Deputy City Managers Gina Montes and Inger Erickson, along with the Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) and Parks and Recreation Department (PRD), submitted the proposed pilot program. They noted that a brick-and-mortar, two-stall public restroom would cost more: around $400,000 to $500,000. 

OHS explained during a Community and Cultural Investment Subcommittee meeting earlier this month that it would weigh the pilot restroom’s success against cost of installation, cleaning and maintenance, temperature control in the summers, and utility hookups to determine if future Portland Loos will be installed throughout the city. 

Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari urged OHS to install another Portland Loo immediately at University Park. Ansari said that constituents notify her constantly of sanitary issues, such as drug use and backups, as well as availability issues at current public restrooms.

“I think we need to be innovative with these issues. That’s why the typical stuff isn’t working,” said Ansari. “I think as opposed to losing another year during the summer heat, let’s pilot one in a park where we do constantly have people reaching out about, ‘Why do we have limited bathroom access from 4 to 8, inside a recreation center? It’s very challenging actually to use the bathroom currently at University Park.” 

There are 89 Portland Loos throughout the U.S., and one in New Zealand. The Phoenix installation would be the first of its kind in Arizona. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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