$316. That’s the average amount Portland taxpayers shell out each time a crew is dispatched to clean up human waste from city streets, sidewalks or parks, according to a government analysis.
It’s a common problem, the city found. At least half of filings with Portland’s homelessness complaint system — as many as 450 a week — include reports of human waste, its report said.
A cleanup team is not dispatched to each call, and the city didn’t report the total amount it has spent on waste removal. But the report said disposal of more than 3,300 gallons of waste — not factoring in a $200 per incident dispatch fee and cleaners’ up to $104 per hour rate — cost $26,480 alone over one year. Cleanup costs are also factored into the city’s $3.5 million a year homeless camp removal program.
The volume of waste, substantial expense to taxpayers to clean it up and infectious disease hazards led the City Council last month to vote to spend money on a program it hopes will decrease the problem of people relieving themselves outdoors. It will place portable bathrooms and showers in problem areas and provide on-site staffers to ensure the facilities are kept tidy.
Portable toilets, wrapped in local-friendly patterns like the famed Portland airport carpet or Trail Blazers colors, will initially be placed in high-need areas in downtown, Southeast Portland and outer East Portland, according to the city analysis.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said he proposed the funding after hearing time and again from residents who are “concerned about the amount of human feces that we are seeing on our streets, in storefronts, in neighborhoods, in parks.”
Beyond aesthetic cleanliness, Wheeler said in an interview that bathrooms are needed to help prevent the outbreak of diseases such as Hepatitis A.
The mayor’s program, called Hygiene Street Response, aims to deploy six portable toilets and build mobile bathroom and shower trailers that the city will give away to nonprofits serving the homeless.
Toilets will be attended to by “public space managers” — homeless people hired to ensure proper use of the toilets, dispose of trash and syringes, and collect data on the bathrooms’ use.
Officials budgeted $877,000 for the program during the next fiscal year. At least $615,000 will go to attendants’ salaries. How many will be hired and at what rate is up to a to-be-determined social service organization the city will contract with for management of the toilets, said Jen Clodius, a spokeswoman for the city Office of Management and Finance.
If all goes to plan, the report states, the bathrooms will improve the quality of life for homeowners and homeless people alike.
This year’s appropriation isn’t the first time the city has purchased bathrooms for homeless people.
In 2016, the city paid $216,000 to buy a 2,400 square foot bungalow with bathrooms, showers and a laundry facility for homeless people, but it was never put to use. The city sold it at auction last year for $45,000 — a $171,000 loss — according to the bill of sale, provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive in response to a public records request.
Wheeler promised the bathrooms funded with this year’s budget would not be sold.
“We will not be auctioning these off,” the mayor said. “We will be using them.”
— Gordon R. Friedman
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