Should the City Provide Portable Toilets and Garbage Cans for Homeless Camps?

It’s not the Benson, but it’s at least as sanitary as Coachella.

Rose Quarter. (Brian Burk)

Why can't/won't the city provide portable toilets and garbage cans for areas where homeless people set up their tents? —Holly L.

For most of human history, the crap you crapped was the crap you (and your village) wore, indefinitely. Some memorable dumps probably even became local landmarks—"Take a left where Theodoric tarried after the chili feed; you can't miss it."

Nowadays, we have the privilege of making this unpleasant fact of life go away like it never happened—except when we don't. Dignity is a slippery concept, but I think we can all agree you've got more of it when you're not pooping in a bush, which is why Holly's idea is such a good one.

In fact, it's so good we're already doing it! I know this for a fact because, in a coincidence that may yet come in handy, one of Portland's larger homeless camps is just a few blocks from my house.

Thus, I've seen with my own eyes the portable toilet that's been there for months, along with a portable hand-washing station (hello, COVID) and a trash drop. It's not the Benson, but it's at least as sanitary as Coachella—maybe more so, depending on which day of Coachella we're talking about.

And just last month, the city embarked on a plan to put 100 more such toilets in strategic locations around the city, starting with usual-suspect neighborhoods like Old Town and inner Southeast.

This initiative comes to us from HUCIRP, the city's Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program. (Some agencies pay ad shops to come up with snappy acronyms, but not HUCIRP—it puts everything into core services.)

You can even help with this plan! Regular readers know one of the longest-running story arcs of Dr. Know is the fact that there is often a government agency tasked with solving the exact problem you're bitching about, and in many cases it will fix it for you, for free, if you would just pick up the goddamn phone.

HUCIRP relies in part on tips from the public to determine where to deploy sanitary and other resources. So, if you've been complaining to indifferent friends about the encampment near your house (you know who you are), call the city at 503-823-4000. It should be able to put you in contact with someone who, um, gives a shit.

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