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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 three miles 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 DC, like European & Asian capitals, has clean, safe public restroom that are available when needed.

 

To this end, July 2014 we established the PFFC Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative.

Our goal is to convince the DC government to install clean, safe public restrooms available to everyone in needed areas of DC.

Our strategy is to:

  1. raise consciousness of the need
  2. educate on the problem and who benefits
  3. build support through advocacy

To date we have:

  1. carried out research to document the problem in DC along with a feasibility study to identify options for clean, safe public restrooms appropriate for DC;
  2. delivered approximately 50 presentations to: DC government officials, DC Council Members/staff, ANCs, BIDs, churches, community associations, social advocacy organizations;
  3. inspired and informed the introduction by four DC Council members of Bill 22-0223, Public Restroom Facilities Installation & Promotion Act of 2017;
  4. appeared in the written media (Washington Post, Greater Washington, DC Currents, Street Sense), on radio (KojoNnamdi Show); and television (ABC 7 local news)

We have also prepared and distributed four-panel palm size cards for individuals who experiencing homelessness/must carry bags around them with information on restrooms they can access (locations, hours, limitations on bags allowed).

Latest News


Bill 22-0223, Public Restrooms Facilities Installation & Promotion Act of 2017, having gone through a hearing in January 2018 is currently being marked up by the Committees on Transportation & Environments and Health. If all goes well (e.g. Bill 22-0223 is voted out of both Committees) it will go to the Council of the Whole for two consecutive votes by all 13 DC Council Members in December.  If not Bill 22-0223 will die at the end of the year and will need to be reintroduced in 2019.

 

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


Research

  • Carried out feasibility study to identify lessons learned/best practices from other cities in the US and elswhere that have been successful in installing and maintaining clean, safe public restrooms available to everyone 24/7
  • Conducted annual inventories of 85 private facilities in 5 areas of DC with high levels of pedestrian traffic to identify those willing to admit individuals who aren’t patrons. In 2015, 50% (43 out of 85) permitted access to non-patrons. This dropped to 33% (28) in 2016 and 13% (11) in 2017.
  • Did comprehensive search to identify public facilities off the Mall with restrooms open to the public. As of May 2018, there were five open during the day with limited hours and no signs; and two open 24/7 again with no signs.

Served as inspiration for Bill 22-0223, Public Restroom Facilities Installation and Promotion Act of 2017

  • Bill 22-0223, introduced in April 2017, directs DC government agencies to (1) identify up to 10 sites in the District that are suitable for installing clean, save public restrooms available 24/7; (2) establish a program to provide incentives to private factilities to open their restrooms to the public.
  • Hearing held on Bill 22-0223 on January 10, 2017 with 13 individuals testifying from various perspectives on why clean, safe public restrooms are needed.
  • Markup awaiting vote from members of Committee on Transportation & Environment; to be followed  by markup and vote from Committee on Health, at which point bill goes to the Council of the Whole for 2 votes which we hope will take place by the end of December as, at that time, bill 22-0223 dies.

Recent Testimonies at DC City Council Hearings 

Ongoing:

  • Circulating petitions requesting that the DC government install and maintain clean, safe public restrooms available to everyone. Approximately 1,100 petitions signed as of May 2018.
  • Endorsements obtained from 34 organizations for clean, safe public restrooms and for Bill 22-0223. This includes resolutions from 13 ANCs in Wards 1,2, 3,5, and 8.
  • Three BIDS (Downtown DC, Georgetown, Capitol Hill) support the need for clean, safe public restrooms in needed areas of DC.
  • Over 2,000 four-panel palm cards – front, back  (size of a business card) plus 11″ x 17″ posters distributed with information, by area of DC, on restrooms open to the public: location, hours or operations, whether bags can be brought in. Additional 1,500 requested.

DC Council Members/staffers briefed on the need for public restrooms and Bill 22-0223.

  • Briefings provided to Council Members Nadeau, Silverman, Grosso, Robert White, McDuffie, Allen, Cheh

Briefings provided for other key agencies/associations

  • DC Department of General Services (DGS),
  • American Association of Retired People (AARP)
  • Hotel Association of Washington DC
  • Think Local First
  • Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (to take place Oct. 4)

Media appearances:

Documents available from our Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative


PRESENTATIONS

STUDIES

PUBLIC RESTROOM RESOURCES

PUBLIC RESTROOM OPTIONS

WHO ARE THE RESTROOM CHALLENGED

PETITION

ANC RESOLUTIONS

PUBLIC RESTROOM LEGISLATION

TESTIMONIES AT DC COUNCIL HEARINGS

MEDIA APPEARANCES

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