img_9733

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


On January 10, 2018, the Committee on Transportation & Environment, chaired by Council Member Cheh, held a hearing on four bills one of which is Bill 22-0223, Public Restroom Facilities Installation & Promotion Act of 2017. Fourteen individuals testified including Janet Sharp and Marcia Bernbaum on the PFFC Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative.

The next step is for the Bill to go mark-up. If passed by the Committee (we need 3 out of 5 votes), the Bill goes to the full Council twice to be voted on. If passed the Bill becomes Law and is passed to the Administration to be implemented.

 

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 change.org/p/dc-city-council-downtown-washington-dc-needs-public-restrooms-that-are-clean-safe-and-available-24-7″ target=”_blank”>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 reached out to obtain endorsements from additional ANCs and  began preparing for a hearing for Bill 22-0223 . We also reached 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.

During the months of October, November and December we were successful in further increasing our endorsements from ANCs. As of the end of December 2018, resolutions have been send from 11 ANCs in support of public restrooms and Bill 22-0223 to the DC City Council.  On December 17 the Washington Post published an OpEd under Local Opinions entitled “Why does DC have so few public restrooms?”.

On January 10, 2018 the Committee on Transportation & Environment of the DC City Council held a hearing on Bill 22-0223: Public Restroom Installation & Promotion Act of 2017. Fourteen individuals representing a variety of organizations delivered testimonies supporting the Bill (to read the testimonies go to the testimonies tab under Public Restrooms). We are hopeful that the Bill will be passed by the Committee. From there it will go to the full City Council for 2 votes and, if passed, become law.

In February Marcia Bernbaum testified at the Department of General Services (DGS) 2017 Oversight Hearing.  Due to interest expressed by DGS Director Gillis, PFFC did a presentation the following week on Bill 22-0223 and lessons learned/best practices from our research at a meeting with senior staff at DGS which was chaired by Director Gillis.

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 November 15, 2017 we have endorsements from the following organizations:

— ANC1B (14th St & U St.corridors)

— ANC1C (Adams Morgan)

— ANC2A (Foggy Bottom)

— ANC2B (Dupont Circle)

— ANC2C (Gallery Place Areas)

— ANC2F (Downtown DC)

— ANC3D (Spring Valley & Palisades)

— ANC3E (Tenley-American University)

— ANC3F (UDC & Forrest Hills)

— 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

— Dupont Circle Village

— Foundry United Methodist Church

— Friends Meeting of Washington DC

— Church of the Epiphany

— Miriams Kitchen

— Pathways to Housing

— Collective Action for Safe Spaces

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

— Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA)

— Food and Friends

— Jews United for Justice

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.

Public Restroom Bill Testimonies


On January 10, 2018 the Committee on Transportation & Environment, Chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh, held a hearing on Bill 22-0223, Public Restroom Facilities Installation & Promotion Act of 2017 which was inspired by and whose content reflected lessons learned and best practices elsewhere identified by PFFCs DowntownDC Public Restroom Initiative.

Bill 22-0223 directs the DC government to establish a working group consisting of the Department of Public Works, DC Water, the Department of Transportation, the Department of General Services, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Recreation to:

  • Identify, with ANC & BID participation, up to 10 sites in areas of the District with limited access to public restroom facilities that are appropriate for installing a stand alone public restroom;
  • Authorize the creation of a subsidy program for private entities to open their restrooms to the public.

Fourteen people, representing organizations or themselves, testified at the January 10 hearing.

Their testimonies touched on a wide arrange of topics:

  • How the guidelines for identifying sites for stand-alone public restrooms and for selecting stand-along public restrooms reflect best practices from other cities in the US that have recently been successful in installing and maintaining clean, safe, available public restrooms.
  • Availability of public restrooms, open during the day and 24/7, in downtown DC
  • Trends among private facilities in closing their restrooms to the public.
  • Options for clean, safe, available public restrooms: the Portland Loo, Automated Public Toilets, and the London Community Toilet Scheme.
  • That the United Nations has declared that access to clean and safe water and sanitation is a “human right fundamental to the enjoyment of all human rights”.
  • That access to clean, safe restrooms is critical for both personal and public health.
  • That individuals who have high blood pressure and suffer from other diseases often will not take their medications, which have a diuretic effect, because they can’t rely on finding a restroom when they need it.
  • Benefits to seniors and others who are restroom challenged to having ready access to clean, safe restrooms when they urgently have to go.
  • Benefits to bikers, joggers, walkers of knowing that they have access to a clean, safe restroom.
  • Challenges to DC’s some 20,000 million tourists a year when they need to go and can’t find a clean, safe restrooms
  • Challenges parents with small children face when their children have to go and there is no where to go.
  • That women who carry too much urine in their bladders run the risk of getting Urinary Track Infections (UTI) which can in some cases lead to kidney failure.
  • The plight of the homeless who often suffer the indignity of having to urinate and defecate in public and in the process risk getting a fine, jail term, or both.
  • Benefits to businesses of having clean, safe restrooms.

MEDIA COVERAGE

WMAL: DC looking to open more public bathrooms in city

WAMU : ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and MORNING EDITION: No Where to Go? Lawmakers seek solution to DC’s bathroom shortage

WTOP: Should DC have more public restrooms?

TESTIMONIES DELIVERED

Marcia Bernbaum, PFFC Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative

Janet Sharp, PFFC Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative

Revd. Catriona Laing, Church of the Epiphany

Leonard Greenberger, Potomac Communications Group

Will Handsfield, Georgetown BID

Dr. Catherine Crossland, Unity Health Care

George Olivar, public witness

Patty Mullahy Fugere, Washington legal Clinic for the Homeless

Nick DelleDone, Commissioner for ANC2B04

Ashley Gorczyka, Miriams Kitchen

Tim Krepp, DC Tour Guide

Sheila White, Miriams Kitchen

Beth Merricks, public witness

Jessica Raven, Collective Action for Safe Spaces