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Eli, 5 years old, peeks out of the Portland Loo in Cambridge MA

People living in, working in, and visiting European and Asian capitals take it for granted that, when they need to go, they will find a clean, safe, available public restroom nearby.

This, unfortunately, is not the case in Washington, DC, our nation’s Capital. If you are in downtown DC and urgently have to go, you will have a hard time finding a public restroom nearby. Even if there is one, the hours are limited and there are no signs to tell you where it is located. Some private restaurants and food chains, might let you in. However, increasingly they are limiting access to patrons. And, if you are walking in Washington DC late at night and urgently have to go, you may be in big trouble. Chances are you will have to walk a half-mile to a mile to find a clean, safe, restroom that is open; that is, if you know where the few restrooms in DC open 24/7 are located.

The People for Fairness Coalition (PFC) — established in April 2008 with the objective of finding housing for everyone in Washington DC through advocacy, outreach and peer mentoring — has taken up the challenge of ensuring that clean, safe public restrooms are available to everyone 24/7 in downtown areas of Washington DC.

Our overall strategy is to raise consciousness, educate on the problem, and build support through advocacy. To this end, our approach over the coming moths is three pronged: (1) obtain support and buy in from two areas where we believe there is an immediate need for a public restroom — the Dupont Circle area and along the K Street corridor between Farragut and Franklin Squares (this includes obtaining support from local ANCs, resident associations, churches, businessmen and business organizations) ; (2) obtain support from  DC Council members; and (3) obtain the support of important associations representing businesses, consumers, and associations that represent the homeless,  senior, and individuals with disabilities.

Latest News


The highlight for the month of April was the introduction by Council Members Nadeau, Grosso, Silverman, and White of the Public Restroom Facilities Installation & Promotion Act of 2017, Bill 22-0223. This bill, which replaces the Bill she introduced in January, directs relevant DC government agencies to “coordinate installation of at least 10 public restroom facilities in areas of the District with limited access to public restroom facilities; to authorize the creation of a subsidy program for private entities that keep their restrooms open to the public; and to require the MPD and the Mayor to provide annual public restroom reporting.” The Bill has been referred, consecutively, to the Committee on Transportation and Environment and the Committee on Health, with comments from the Committee on Human Services.

Over the months of April, May and early June we received 5 endorsements from: the Dupont Circle Village, the Friends Meeting of Washington, the Church of the Epiphany, ANC3E (which covers Tenley & Friendship Heights), Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), and the Washington Bicyclists Association (WABA) bringing our total to 18. The Capitol Hill BID became the third BID to endorse access to public restrooms in needed areas of downtown DC.

We are also in the process of submitting proposals for amendments to the DC Comprehensive Plan to include restrooms in public spaces, parks, and neighborhood shopping areas.

How We Got Started


Janet inspecting a restroom

Janet inspecting a restroom

It all began in July of 2014 when, at one or our weekly PFC meetings, a member raised the issue. Although it was not central to our objective of finding housing for everyone who needs it in DC, we decide it was important for us to take it on: everyone, including those without housing, need to have safe, clean, restrooms available any time of day or night.

We started by learning from the experiences of other cities in the US and Canada that have had recently been successful in installing and maintaining public restrooms that are clean, safe, and available 24/7. With models and lessons in hand, in November 2014 we established our Downtown Washington DC Public Restroom Initiative. We formed a committee composed of five passionate members of PFC who are determined to stay the course until clean, safe restrooms available 24/7 are installed in needed areas of downtown DC. We have been meeting weekly since November 2014 and carrying out activities in between.

Inventory of facilities with restrooms in five areas of downtown DC


Our first task was to determine whether downtown DC has a problem. Between January and March of 2015 we selected five areas of downtown DC that have a large population of individuals without housing and high levels of pedestrian traffic. We visited 85 restrooms in private establishments in these areas in order to find out whether we could use their restrooms without purchasing something. If they let us in, we: wrote down the hours the establishment was open, and we entered the restroom in order to see if the restroom was clean and safe. We also did an internet search in order to identify restrooms in DC that are open 24/7.

Our analysis concluded that downtown Washington DC does have a problem. Half of the establishments that we visited limited access to patrons and those that were open to the public are increasingly putting locks and combinations on their bathroom doors. There are only 3 clean, safe restrooms open 24/7 in all of Washington DC. If you have to go urgently and don’t know the area well you wouldn’t know where to go as there is no signage leading you to these restrooms. For more information see the 3-page summary of the report or the 14 page full report.

Our accomplishments


John with street vendor signing our petition.

John with street vendor signing our petition.

Since completing the restroom inventory we have: presented testimonies to the DC City Council in 2015, 2016, and 2017 on the problem; shared the inventory reports with several Council Members, launched a petition asking the DC City Council to support and finance restrooms in needed downtown areas that are clean, safe, and available 24/7. To date we have received 18 endorsements: including from the Foggy Bottom ANC, the Dupont Circle ANC, Dupont Circle Citizen’s Association,the Dupont Circle village the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Miriams Kitchen the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. We also count on the support from the Downtown DC BID, the Georgetown BID, and the Capitol Hill for clean, safe, public restrooms in downtown DC.
We have had articles on our initiative published in the Washington Post, Street Sense, and the DC Currents.

In February we issued a 2016 Follow up to the Restroom Inventory that we carried out in 2015. The key findings: Of 42 private facilities visited in 2015 that let us enter the restrooms, only 28 permitted entry to restrooms to individuals we weren’t customers. Among the private facilities that we visited there were signs of discrimination against an individual with the appearance of being homeless when he asked to use the restroom facility When we visited the same facilities during the Spring of 2017 we found that only 11 of the original 85 private facilities with restrooms permitted individuals who weren’t customers to use their restrooms.

Also during the Spring of 2017 presented our Initiative to Council Members Grosso and Cheh, and to key staffers for Council Members Silverman, Todd, Allen, and Robert White where we received a great deal of support. On March 16, accompanied by Council Member Nadeau, we appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi show. On March 20 Council Member Nadeau hosted an event at the Wilson Building. The keynote speaker was Greg Madden whose company manufactures the Portland Loo, one of three options for clean, safe public restrooms recommended for consideration for downtown Washington DC.

In April Council Member Nadeau introduced the Public Restroom Facilities Installation & Promotion Act of 2017, Bill 22-0223. This bill, which replaces the Bill she introduced in January, directs relevant DC government agencies to “coordinate installation of at least 10 public restroom facilities in areas of the District with limited access to public restroom facilities; to authorize the creation of a subsidy program for private entities that keep their restrooms open to the public; and to require the MPD and the Mayor to provide annual public restroom reporting.”

In May and June we met with, and received endorsements from: ANC3E (Tenley Town, Friendship Heights, and American University), the Church of the Epiphany, and Friends Meeting of Washington DC.

In September, after taking the summer off, we have been reaching out to obtain endorsements from additional ANCs and preparing for a hearing for Bill 22-0223 scheduled for this Fall. We are also reaching out to additional DC Council Members to get their support. And we are reaching out to Washington DC based restaurant chains to identify if they are interested in having clean, safe bathrooms in the areas where they have facilities.

 

Endorsements


Listed below are the organizations that have formally endorsed us. As we receive additional endorsements we will update this section.

The Downtown DC BID, the Georgetown BID, and the Capitol Hill BID cannot provide formal endorsements/ However, all three support public restroom access for all members of the Downtown DC community to support a higher quality life for our residents, workers and guests.

As of May 30, 2017 we have endorsements from the following organizations:

— ANC2A (Foggy Bottom)

— ANC2B (Dupont Circle)

— DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI)

— Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

— Fair Budget Coalition

— DC Statehood Green Party

— Potomac Communications Group

— Dupont Circle Citizen’s Association

— Foundry United Methodist Church

— Friends Meeting of Washington DC

— Miriams Kitchen

— Pathways to Housing

— Collective Action for Safe Spaces

— Coalition of Non-profit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED)

— Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA)

WRITTEN ENDORSEMENTS:

FAIR BUDGET COALITION

The DC Fair Budget Coalition is proud to endorse the People for Fairness Coalition’s Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative. FBC strongly supports the great work of PFFC, particularly in organizing people experiencing housing instability and homelessness to advocate for themselves and their peers.

Every human being should have a dignified place to relieve themselves. People experiencing homelessness have to deal with many obstacles to manage their basic human functions and often face discrimination and abuse when trying to find a facility to use. They also may have unnecessary encounters with law enforcement or expose themselves to dangerous situations when trying to take care of their bodies. For women experiencing homelessness, access to sanitary napkins and tampons are already limited, and they need a place to safely deal with their monthly menstrual cycles. A downtown public restroom is a common sense and inexpensive way to give people a place to relieve themselves in safety and in dignity.

POTOMAC COMMUNICATIONS GROUP

As a business that has operated at numerous locations throughout downtown D.C. for more than 35 years, Potomac Communications Group wholeheartedly endorses the goals of the People for Fairness Coalition’s Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative.

We agree that access to public restrooms is a human right and that denying access is not only a denial of one’s rights but also an affront to human dignity. Those who live in and visit our nation’s capital, and in particular families with young children, pregnant women, the elderly, those in need of permanent housing and others who are in any way “restroom challenged,” deserve access to clean, publicly available toilet facilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The initiative’s goals will also help the city’s business community by making our streets and sidewalks cleaner and safer.

We believe that as one of the country’s foremost tourist destinations, Washington, D.C. should set an example for the rest of the city and indeed the rest of the world in this regard.

CNHED

The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development (CNHED) supports the People for Fairness Coalition’s Downtown Restroom Initiative. Public restrooms are a benefit for everyone — residents, shoppers, international and domestic visitors, and the less fortunate, including people who are challenged to find access to safe and sanitary restroom facilities.

MIRIAM’S KITCHEN

The People for Fairness Coalition (PFC) has been a true leader in advocating for a variety of issues important to DC residents for the past 9 years. Miriam’s Kitchen is proud to support their Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative, which calls for clean, safe, and accessible public restrooms in our nation’s capital. This initiative addresses an issue of great concern to many Miriam’s Kitchen guests – not to mention many members of our community at large. We are happy to support PFC and their leadership in this work.