This story originally aired on June 8, 2019.
Seattle, like many other cities, commonly deals with people going to the bathroom in public spaces. If you are someone who does not have access to shelter, finding a safe place to go to the bathroom in Seattle is especially difficult.
In fact, work by the Seattle Auditor’s Office revealed just how limited bathrooms are citywide: six publicly funded bathrooms are available for use 24/7, said City Auditor David Jones. And of the bathrooms available, few were usable.
“They were often dirty and had needles in them,” Jones said. “Sometimes people would camp out in them, which would make it difficult to go in and clean them.”
Some bathrooms, such as one in Lake City, even had fecal matter surrounding the bathroom. “People obviously weren’t able to go there and use it for whatever reason,” Jones said.
Now, his office is looking to another city for help.
Like Seattle, San Francisco also has thousands of unsheltered people who need a place to go to the bathroom. Up until a few years ago, that city’s public toilets — similar to Seattle’s — were unusable.
Today, San Francisco invests $5 million a year to maintain public toilets. The goal is to keep them so clean that parents would be comfortable with their toddlers using the facilities. Most of these toilets are probably cleaner than the one in your home.
In this story, Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer talks with Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for San Francisco Public Works. Gordon says that the answer to keeping her city’s toilets usable and clean is paying someone to stand guard. But as you’ll hear in this interview, these attendants do so much more.