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Why Portland's Public Toilets Succeeded Where Others Failed (2012) (citylab.com)
106 points by curtis 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 132 comments

$90k upfront plus $12k /year? Perhaps these public restrooms are better than the alternative, but it seems to me that Germany has successfully solved this issue for far less cost by partnering with local businesses [1]. For just the cost of one of these toilet's maintenance you could have dozens of businesses open up their restrooms to the public.

[1] https://www.fastcompany.com/3065278/german-cities-are-solvin...

The few times that I went to a restroom at a German business, particularly restaurants, there was usually an attendant that took care of the restroom and you had to leave a tip. I could never see American businesses willingly opening their restrooms to the homeless, let alone having a full-time attendant to watch over them.

I'm not sure when that was, but when I was in Germany in 2017 my experience was that every gas station had a washroom that was available to the public at a cost of about 1 euro. There was no attendant, but a coin-operated gate. The washrooms were large, well lit, perfectly clean, had several stalls and often showers as well. It's a sharp contrast to the free washroom experience in most North American gas stations, which is a single stall that you need to request a key for, usually horrifyingly dirty.

I resented paying the euro a bit, but the format made a lot of sense to me.

In most ares of the US, it is illegal to charge to use the restroom.


That is actually a more recent (~20 years?) development. You cannot say anything about the quality of restrooms, but it is basically one company (Sanifair) for all of Germany that established a monopoly. People working there are often sub-contractors with bad working conditions. You get a coupon for the price you paid to exchange against wares at the local gas stop.

The coupon was created to get acceptance for paying, which wasn't common a few years back, but most of them never get redeemed. It is a business worth billions.

Unfortunately people tend to fall for coupons of any kind because they suggest you could save money.

For those who do redeem the coupon, it's often an incentive to spend money they normally wouldn't have (in high-margin stores).

Very true. Additionally, in many cases the shop and toilets belong to the same parent company.

At least the business case isn't stupid.

>It's a sharp contrast to the free washroom experience in most North American gas stations, which is a single stall that you need to request a key for, usually horrifyingly dirty.

I have road tripped around much of the western US and can think of only one time encountering a bathroom like this. In fact, clean bathrooms seem like a major point of competition between gas stations.

I see the clean restrooms/competition thing a lot on interstate roads. Its more the secondary highways and byways where the gas stations only do enough business to have 1 employee/owner working at a time that have small/dirty bathrooms.

If you want to pee for free at a German Autobahn stop at one of the rest areas without a gas station or shop. They still feature the usual public toilets with all that this entails.

The same system - Sanifair - is also active in the UK; last time I was in Germany, they cost 70 cents per visit - extrapolate that to the amount of visitors / hour and I think you get a decent wage to keep the toilets clean at all times. In addition, you get a coupon worth 50 cents, which can be spent at all gas stations / truck stops using the same system (most of them), incentivising making a purchase to help cover more costs.

In addition, the bathroom areas are designed to be easy to clean and brightly lit.

The toilets in the station I commute via daily are like this but without taking contactless payment it's of little use to me. I barely-ever carry cash and never coinage.

I travel quite a bit on the weekends, on the way to my girlfriend, and all toilets that I've seen are nfc-enabled (Baden-Württemberg -- Bayern). Except for Crailsheim. There are Toilets by the Bahn, but are closed at 18:00 or so.

It seems to me that in the past decade or so, gas station restrooms in the US have gotten much better. Yes, you can still find nasty hole-in-the-wall toilets if you look in small independent gas stations that have been there forever, but nearly all of the chain stations are at least cleaned regularly and many are almost luxurious in comparison to the past.

Yep. I remember how horrible gas station restrooms used to be back in the 1980s. They aren't like that any more, now that we have big chains like Wawa.

Maybe it's a product of where I live - an island on the west coast where there are no interstates and many independent gas stations.

I think they figured out they were losing money by having people avoiding their facilities.

Most gas station restrooms in the US aren't terrible anymore, I haven't seen a bad one in over a decade.

If you got the pay for it I doubt that it is actually solving the problem of people urinating in the street. The main question seems to be if there is enough business that provide the facility for free to the public.

American truck stops have huge clean bathrooms with separate showers (for fee) as well. I’ve never tried a truck stop shower, though.

So do poor people in Germany just not poop? Or are there no poor people?

"I can't see change happening so we shouldn't change".

With attitudes like that you should recognise you're part of the problem, you're part of the feeling of resistance to change.

I think you're confusing indifference with opposition.

Have you been to Portland? Local restaurants don't want to deal with the street folks there.

Germany has the significant advantage of being mostly populated by Germans, who are notorious for their adherence to rules.

Or, Germany's welfare system and mental health laws mean their citizens are satisfied or at least kept somewhere warm and clean.

> who are notorious for their adherence to rules.

That is a meme the Prussians have created to look more scary - to all other Germans.

Even the Swabians follow the rules, unless you mean the grammatical ones.

Counterpoint: jaywalking is virtually nonexistent in Germany.

Counteproint: in my town, jaywalking is the norm because there are only 2 traffic lights. I regularly see people jaywalk in the city as well.

Usually the reasons for jaywalking are either 1) the road is empty or 2) late for a train/tram/bus.

edit: It should also be noted that jaywalking is not illegal in germany IF 1) you're not crossing the road at an intersection with traffic lights for pedestrians AND it is red or 2) you're crossing the road in the shortest and fastest manner without impeding, endangering or otherwise causing trouble in traffic.

So if you walked over the road, a police officer could at worst give you a stern talking to. If you crossed a road with a red light for pedestrians, you'd get a 5€ fine.

I was stopped by a cop in Berlin for jaywalking. He didn't give me a ticket. But there were no cars around either.

There is also an unspoken rule for jaywalking, don't do it around kids. I also saw 3 tween girls walking across the street on a green, they were right around half way when the crosswalk light turned red. They all turned around and went back. It was kind of funny. My American friend told me a funny story where he was drinking with German friends, and they walk back at like 3am with no cars in sight and he of course crosses the street and all the Germans were back at other side waiting for it to turn green.

Reminds me of an incident narrated by Prof. Amartya Sen during a speech:

He had gone to Germany for a conference. While walking back to his hotel, had to cross the street. There were no vehicles in sight, but the light was red. After waiting for some time, he thought "what the heck", and crossed the street even though the light was still red. After a few minutes, a German man walked up to him and said "Mr. Amartya Sen, in Germany we follow the rules even if there are no cars". He apologised to the German, and asked him if he knew him, may be from the conference. To which the man replied, "I have no idea who you are, I just read your name from the conference ID card hanging from your neck".

As always with these kind of things, you should consider explanations which do not require sweeping assumptions about national mentalities. I'm no sociologist, but I'm pretty sure that differences in policing priorities play a big role here. Being fined or at least reprimanded for jaywalking is very common. On the other hand, speeding tickets are a joke, and therefore the notoriously rule adhering Germans do not give a flying fuck about speed limits.

> Being fined or at least reprimanded for jaywalking is very common.

As one of the grandparent comments correctly pointed out, jaywalking is legal in Germany if the road is empty. (A policeman's instructions would override this rule, however.)

Source: https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/stvo_2013/__25.html

I found out that jaywalking is mostly about being from a big busy city (everyone jaywalks because otherwise you would stand more than walk), or being from a small city (no one jaywalks as the semaphores are sensible and traffic low) and a village (everyone jaywalks because there is not even a pavement, however city is scary). Religion plays a role although I've noticed that it's probably just because the religious fathers I know of are very strict.

In Philadelphia, you jaywalk if 1) The next car arrives in 10 seconds and 2) You believe you can get across the street in 9 seconds.

If you wait for the light, or because a car is in sight, people think you're weird. People have loyalty not to the law, but to nothing other than self-preservation. Absolutely no consideration for legality is given, whatsoever. This is in my experience in stark contrast with German culture.

I assert that there does exist in Germany a cultural appreciation for rules. This is not an exclusively German trait of course, I see similar in Seattle, but it is a trait that Germany has and some other regions do not.

Jaywalking is rampant in Germany, tho a bit more "polite" (if you can call it that) from what I am observing every day. People will jaywalk when they think it is safe and when there are no small children around (to avoid being a bad role model), and that is my MO as well; as opposed to the mentality I have seen in other countries where it seemed to me a lot of people will just cross the street no matter whether it's safe or not and let the motorists deal with not hitting anybody.

Whether or not the motorist is likely to be capable of stopping in time is factored into the "is it safe?" calculus that people in jaywalking cultures perform. For instance in Philadelphia when it snows, people are more conservative in their jaywalking because they know the stopping distance of a car on ice is longer than a car on dry asphalt.

If a motorist would have to stop for you, or even would have to significantly slow down, then no, it's not considered safe, or "polite". Because the driver may not do that and might hit you.

There are other solutions besides crazy expensive vandal-proof high-tech toilets. Just look at what they do in Europe.

* Large Public restrooms in busy city centers and transit hubs where you have attendants constantly cleaning the place and charge people to use the facilities.

* Outdoor public urinals that are little more than a drain and a shield. This is an 80% solution that solves the problem of stinking alleys. Much of the time men just need a place to leak during a night of drinking. Women are way better about finding and getting permission to use private restrooms at shops/restaurants.

Did you read the article? The Portland Loo is neither crazy expensive nor high-tech. It's a more inclusive and accessible version of the "public urinal that's little more than a drain and a shield."

These aren't "crazy expensive vandal-proof high-tech toilets" (which TFA says failed in Seattle); It's an example of "hostile architecture."


Outdoor urinals are controversial. https://ktla.com/2018/08/14/open-air-public-urinals-cause-co...

Of course, the problem with pay toilets is you have to actually have change on you.

>Of course, the problem with pay toilets is you have to actually have change on you.

That's true, but in Europe IME, you have to have cash on you anyway because so many places don't accept credit cards.

So how do you solve the heroin junky passing out/projectile vomiting/falling asleep/dying/leaving needles around/defecating everywhere but the toilet with the door locked problem?

On the streets of San Francisco I have seen several passed out heroin junkies lying flat on their back right there on the sidewalk, needles nearby, perhaps passed out or worse with some sort of projectile body effluent leaking out of them or trailing behind them. This is probably an average day at Starbucks for a non-discriminatory bathroom in a high addict area.

> So how do you solve the heroin junky passing out/projectile vomiting/falling asleep/dying/leaving needles around/defecating everywhere but the toilet with the door locked problem?

Universal healthcare, harm reduction and rehab services, comprehensive welfare, affordable housing and a sufficient number of properly trained and resourced social workers.

This is correct. Helsinki is full of public, free toilets in very good condition and I never had such issues.


Presumably San Francisco’s problem is being an outlier in a nation that does little about its homeless epidemic. More affordable housing, a proper welfare system, and public healthcare seem to have solved this problem in almost all other western countries.

The UK is trying a related experiment. We’re becoming more like the USA - closing hostels, slashing local authority budgets by ~ 60%, privatising healthcare, removing social welfare. The result - a huge rise in homelessness. Most major cities in the UK are now reminiscent of the US. Never thought I’d see it here.

Talking to homeless people in London, the most common reason for being on the street seems to be welfare being withdrawn or problems getting housed.

Londoner here - yeah it doesn't seem that great an idea.

> That's already been tried.

Sure, and the shelters are full with long wait lists. It's almost as if there's widespread interest in getting off the street.

> SF spends more on homeless per capita than anywhere else.


No country has ever solved their junky problem even with those things.

To some degree, we have to get used to junkies existing in jurisdictions that aren't inclined to lock them up. However, we can't spend our way out of the problem. San Francisco spends ~$40k/yr/homeless [0] , if that's not enough to solve the problem, then it's just too great. We cannot throw money away on problems created by cities that abet $4k/mo rents for one-bedrooms.

Throwing money at the problem isn't the same thing as investing in effective policies. How many of the above policies mentioned are actually, keyword actually, implemented in SF?

In my opinion, that is a huge problem with the US in general, such as prisons "rehabilitation": high cost per prisoner and very low amounts of actual rehabilitation.

Substance addiction is a problem in the US in general in that we'd love to have less of it.

Junkies shooting up in public, homeless people shitting on the sidewalk, etc, etc is a problem confined to a handful of cities on the west coast.

> Junkies shooting up in public, homeless people shitting on the sidewalk, etc, etc is a problem confined to a handful of cities on the west coast.

This just isn't true. At all. This is a problem in cities all over the country. Some cities hide it away, but homelessness and the other problems that come with drug addiction exist all across this country.

I live in Portland so I'm well aware of the effects from a large homeless population, but I try to travel as often as I can and I make it a point to get out of tourist areas as much as possible, usually to concerts or something. I can tell you first hand, within the last 2 years Philadelphia seems to have the same issues, DC definitely has the same problems, Boston, NY, Chicago, Austin, and Denver all have visible homeless.

What I find strange is how every city tends to believe their city is unique with homeless, like they don't realize this is a problem across the entire country. Go to any of those city's subreddits and search "homeless" and you'll see how they've all deluded themselves into believing their city is somehow unique and magically the only place in the country with a homeless problem. It's bonkers. This is a massive problem across the entire country. I suspect small towns across the rust belt probably have their own problems, especially considering how their meth and opiate addictions on a per capita level are significantly higher than even major cities.

I've lived and worked in Boston and DC. You see the occasional person panhandling in certain places. There's some homeless on the public transit systems. Never once have I had to step over shit. Never once have I seen a homeless person bother anyone else. Never once have I had to step over feces. I didn't say these cities were special. I just said the west coast has it far worse. I have been to SF. The scale and nature of the homelessness is categorically different.

I literally saw a homeless woman take a shit on the sidewalk in DC at 14&P (around 2008).

The substance abusers don't want less of it, thats why they do it to begin with.

Address the causes that lead people into homelessness and addiction and you end up with less of it. That isn't conjecture, its fact, proven by dozens of disparate cultures and countries adopting or rescinding preventative measures with statistically traceable results proving positive correlation.

Where did I say anything about what substance abusers want? For what it's worth many of them want to get clean but can't pull it off because that's how addiction works.

My point was that substance abuse is (relatively) evenly distributed geographically and pretty much every city and state has more of it than they'd like. Homelessness to the point where it is a significant impact on the day to day lives of the non-homeless is a west coast problem (I've never had to step over human feces in DC, NY or Boston). I'm not saying anything about causes, effects or correlations.

You said "what we want" and one of the important things to remember when having a discussion about macrosocial policy like reducing drug abuse or homelessness is that it is exceedingly rare for everyone to be in agreement.

When confronting homelessness, remember that landlords, aristocrats, and even upper middle income working class all don't want to actually improve the homeless situation. To them its a cost center, and they save more money exporting their homeless by force than trying to actually get them housed and healthy. The policies currently in place out west and across the country, in relation to not just homelessness but all "problems" in society are all intentional. Its key to remember that, because recognizing the hostile actors in resistance to societal improvement is often half the battle in knowing how to make meaningful change.

Homelessness and drug abuse are both symptomatic of livelihood instability, as can be proven by how European nations demonstrated marked reductions in both as more policies are enacted to keep people from falling into extreme poverty. But neither is simple enough to distill to being the consequence of one decision or policy - the frequency of homelessness is influenced by many factors, including... 1) The livability of the area exposed to the elements (homeless in Seattle and Boston are often lower not because of good social policy but because its life threatening in the winter). 2) Local policy relating to the homeless. Mostly due to the age of many of the cities there are more well established non-profits, charities, and churches operating to assist the homeless in the East than the West. 3) Housing prices, obviously, are a huge factor. Its much easier to be livelihood insecure when your rent is a larger and larger chunk of your income. This is why, despite often rampant poverty in the South, homelessness isn't nearly as endemic because property is much cheaper in Nowhere Kentucky than it is in the Bay Area.

> San Francisco spends ~$40k/yr/homeless [0]

Did you forget the citation for this? If so, I'd appreciate it.

Not the OP, but probably from here: https://projects.sfchronicle.com/sf-homeless/2018-state-of-h...

$300M / year is spent and there are 7,500 homeless in SF.

I believe a good chunk of the money is spent on housing formerly homeless though.

There are two dead comments that are both just straightforward criticisms of this. I don't get it. The question is basically, "How do we keep bathrooms tidy?" and the answer is massive spending programs. Criticism of this sentiment is verboten. What the hell?

As to the subject, gas stations and fast food restaurants, etc, have always been effectively public bathrooms all through the US. Maybe San Francisco is an exception that people here confuse with a rule.

  Criticism of this sentiment is verboten. What the hell?
People who live in SF imagine your city with tidy bathrooms, then follow this tree:

(1): Does the city have homeless and drug addicts? If yes, go to (2). If no, go to (3).

(2): And where are the bathrooms? If 'in private businesses' go to (4). If public toilets, go to (5).

(4): The private businesses chase off the homeless, who shit in the street. SAN FRANCISCO IS HERE.

(5): They're probably going to have people passing out in them, then.

(3): OK, so where have the homeless drug addicts gone? If they've been cured, go to (6). If you've sent them to another city, go to (7)

(6): Now you've probably got a massive spending program. THIS IS WHERE THE PEOPLE YOU'RE TALKING TO ARE

(7): Eh, you aren't the first. THIS IS UNLIKELY TO EARN YOU UPVOTES ONLINE. It might earn you re-election if you get elected then do it by stealth though.

If you've got a solution that avoids every pitfall I'm sure people would be eager to hear it - but if your explanation skips over some of the problems, that's less helpful.

> Does the city have homeless and drug addicts? If yes, go to (2). If no, go to (3).

Why did you put the two together though? There are many drug addicts whose life circumstances are very different, and they are leading a successful life with their addiction, because addiction does not necessarily cause such psychosocial harm.

"Homeless drug addicts" would be more accurate, which you are using later on though. :P But then again, many homeless people defecate publicly despite having the option not to, AND are not drug addicts.

I guess when people refer to drug addicts, they are referring to people displaying a certain set of behaviors that we usually see from homeless or poor people, because they are less likely to be able to hide their addictions and whatnot, mostly because it affects them negatively more, and the consequences are more obvious. I also believe it is not actually due to drug addiction alone. Do not forget that there is a reason for why they started using drugs. It could have been merely because they ended up on the streets, and for totally unrelated reasons.


The book explains it better than I ever could. It is very likely that I phrased myself incorrectly, the first two sections of this book should clear it all up. Cheers.

This is what I am talking about (posted it here to avoid confusion):

Relatedly, different life circumstances may protect people more or less well against impaired functioning (for a review, see Martin et al. 2014). For example, it is well known that addiction is associated with low socio-economic status alongside other mental health problems (Compton et al. 2007; Heyman 2009). But, in so far as addiction is diagnosed via negative consequences, wealth, alongside other forms of privilege, may offer a protective factor (cf. Matthews 2014; Schmidt et al. 2010). For example, a wealthy mother who drinks heavily but can afford a live-in nanny to ensure her children are adequately cared for is able to meet more of her role-related responsibilities than a poor woman who drinks equal amounts but whose children go hungry and miss school. The consequences are more serious by shared social standards in the latter case than the former, and so too, as a result, is the likelihood of a diagnosis.

The implication that individual differences in conceptions of how to live and life circumstances can affect the likelihood of a diagnosis may give pause. Indeed, Martin et al. (2014) have proposed that the negative consequences of use should be considered ancillary rather than core features of addiction for this very reason, namely, that they introduce significant individual and context specificity. However once we acknowledge that drug use in itself is not indicative of any form of disorder, but rather offers instrumental means to fulfilling valuable ends, the idea that negative consequences are fundamental to the pathological nature of addiction becomes evident.

I would think most of addicts are relatively poor people, therefore should be eligible for medicaid, which covers healthcare, detox and rehab services.

Boils down to housing and social workers then?

In big european cities many fast food places have weird blue lighting in the toilets; apparently it makes it hard for junkies to find their veins or something.

The Portland loo features this too, it's only on a night.

That's pretty common in America too

Wet houses are something that's been proposed in San Francisco. IMO they would be a good start.

This is a San Francisco problem. In most of the world such a sight would be very rare.

A Vancouver BC problem, too. Really, it's a problem with any city that has better support for disadvantaged populations (homeless, drug addicts) than the country it exists within—because those populations will flock to it in order to receive that support, and thus put a far larger support burden on city/NGO resources than you'd expect given the population.

I don't know about Canada, but the US is the only place where "Greyhound therapy" is a thing, and no it's not homeless playing with dogs. Basically, cities just ship their homeless/mentally-ill to another city via Greyhound bus lines. Some cities get the short-end of the stick more than others.

I discovered it first hand taking a bus from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.


Greyhond therapy is a thing in Canada as well, although I've never heard that exact phrase before. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/homeless-sas...

That practice is from sending people back to their hometown or last known good address. Cities have limited resources to they kick the can back to its origin. It’s obviously not any kind of solution but it stems from limited resources and wanting to spend it on locals rather than drifters, so to speak.

In the case of Vancouver, I went to elementary school a block away from East Hastings. The benefit of the way they do it there is that those elements stay on E. Hastings for the most part, and aren't out causing discomfort for the rest of the city. I recall there being functioning public washrooms there from when I lived there as a kid.

San Francisco half-asses the social services, they just give out clean needles without considering how to dispose of them. Successful cities provide safe injection sites and supplement them with harm reduction strategies.

The streets of Portland aren't quite as bad as those of San Francisco, but there are plenty of heroin addicts in the Northwest. This particular article doesn't seem to state it directly, but those poor souls are exactly what this public toilet was designed to be resilient to.


The only time I've seen something similar to what you describe was on my trip in New York. And I've been to about 20 countries across 4 continents.

It's an American homegrown problem with too much focus on capitalism.

edit: You can downvote this, but it doesn't make it untrue nor irrelevant to the point. If you have basically no people living on the streets, you also avoid this problem. I'm still shocked from seeing homeless (nearly) die in the cold in New York.

With a better social systems it's maybe not fully solvable, but reducible to a point where it's no longer an apparent problem in every day live. It does work, many countries in the world do it, also in major cities.

> It's an American homegrown problem with too much focus on capitalism.

Capitalism does not preclude charity.

It could be argued that it precludes state-funded social programs, but the US has a very large number of those already, so it follows that Capitalism (as implemented here) is not the cause of this problem.

Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks about the necessity and morality of those programs, they do exist, and they are ineffective. The question is "Why are the ineffective?"

Most European countries also allow involuntary psychiatric treatment and admission, while the US does not.

If you started forcibly hospitalizing the mentally ill homeless in SF you would "solve" the issue pretty quickly, but that goes against some core American values.

The US used to be like this, and changed somewhere in the 1980s. It wasn't because of "core American values", it was because of the removal of funding.

There was widespread abuse and the expense kept going up, laws were passed that curtailed involuntary commitment (based on civil rights, not expense), and we are left with what we have today.

1. decriminalization of drugs use

2. public healthcare

3. state-funded homeless shelters

And then not only you don't have a problem with all these undesirables messing up your public toilets - you also don't have a significant part of your society wasting their lives.

Oh but that would literally be communism, right. Carry on, then.

The homeless problem on the west coast has become much worse in the past decade or so. Drugs have been criminalized, healthcare for the poor has been crappy and state funded homeless shelters have been practically non-existent for far longer than that. I don't think any of those will do any more than make some small dents in the problem.

Maybe costs of living increased compared to low-end salaries in the recent years?

Something had to change, it's not normal to have so many homeless people that it becomes a practical concern.

1. Drug use was not a crime few decades bug. Smoking is not a crime today. It tried before. It doesn't work. 2. Public healthcare is working well if you are not interested in result. It tried before. It doesn't work. 3. Nobody will pay ever penny to care about zero cost homes. It tried before. It doesn't work.

> It tried before. It doesn't work.

It works in Portugal.

> Public healthcare is working well if you are not interested in result. It tried before. It doesn't work

Public healthcare works in almost every country on Earth, and in most of developed countries it works really well. At least better than that in USA (looking at the life expectancy).

> Nobody will pay ever penny to care about zero cost homes. It tried before. It doesn't work.

They won't have a choice. That's what taxes are for.

> It works in Portugal.

Is number of drug uses reduced? Nope. It risen.

Is criminal drug activity reduced? Nope. It risen.

So, what exactly "works" in Portugal?

> Public healthcare works in almost every country on Earth, and in most of developed countries it works really well. At least better than that in USA (looking at the life expectancy).

If you are not a drug user, your life expectancy is at same level as in Europe.

I have personal experience with public health care. Public healthcare is interested in popping you out of clinic as fast as possible.

For example, I received no treatment for my little pain in the back until I was unable to move. In result, I spent more than year in bed. Private clinic identified my problem _decade_ before, but their results were ignored by government clinic. I was stupid enough to trust government clinic. And so on. I can tell a lot if you want to listen.

> That's what taxes are for.

I want to be homeless then.

> Is number of drug uses reduced? Nope. It risen. > Is criminal drug activity reduced? Nope. It risen.

Sources please.

> So, what exactly "works" in Portugal?


- Increased uptake of treatment (roughly 60% increase as of 2012.)[12]

- Reduction in new HIV diagnoses amongst drug users by 17%[19] and a general drop of 90% in drug-related HIV infection

- Reduction in drug related deaths, although this reduction has decreased in later years. The number of drug related deaths is now almost on the same level as before the Drug strategy was implemented.[12][19] However, this may be accounted for by improvement in measurement practices, which includes a doubling of toxicological autopsies now being performed, meaning that more drugs related deaths are likely to be recorded.[20]

- Reported lifetime use of "all illicit drugs" increased from 7.8% to 12%, lifetime use of cannabis increased from 7.6% to 11.7%, cocaine use more than doubled, from 0.9% to 1.9%, ecstasy nearly doubled from 0.7% to 1.3%, and heroin increased from 0.7% to 1.1%[19] It has been proposed[by whom?] that this effect may have been related to the candor of interviewees, who may have been inclined to answer more truthfully due to a reduction in the stigma associated with drug use.[20] However, during the same period, the use of heroin and cannabis also increased in Spain and Italy, where drugs for personal use was decriminalised many years earlier than in Portugal [20][21] while the use of Cannabis and heroin decreased in the rest of Western Europe.[22][23] The increase in drug use observed among adults in Portugal was not greater than that seen in nearby countries that did not change their drug laws.[24]

- Drug use among adolescents (13-15 yrs) and "problematic" users declined.[20]

- Drug-related criminal justice workloads decreased.[20]

- Decreased street value of most illicit drugs, some significantly

- The number of drug related deaths has reduced from 131 in 2001 to 20 in 2008.[25] As of 2012, Portugal's drug death toll sat at 3 per million, in comparison to the EU average of 17.3 per million.

- Homicide rate increased from 1.13 per 100 000 in 2000 to 1.76 in 2007, then decreased to 0.96 in 2015

Seems good to me.

> If you are not a drug user, your life expectancy is at same level as in Europe.

Sources please.

> I have personal experience with public health care.

Anegdotal evidence.

> I want to be homeless then.

Nobody's stopping you.

> Nobody will pay ever penny to care about zero cost homes.

I'm 100% opposed to this sort of thing being state-funded (I'm an AnCap), but I have to disagree with you here. I've personally subsidized housing for people who I've met that I believed were honestly trying to escape homelessness.

Most people's politics aren't as extreme as my own, but the mere existing of private, non-profit homeless shelters falsifies your idea that no one will help pay for zero cost homes.

Subsidized home is not equal to free home.

I think this is an absolutely amazing idea. I was astonished in Europe how many public toilets there were, and yet when I came back to the states there were none. I think these would be amazing right here in Washington DC because we have a large homeless population, that have nowhere to go. This would also cut down on the whole Starbucks bathroom fiasco situation, and might ease tension between businesses and the homeless.

What was the Starbucks bathroom fiasco?

See also the Camden Bench, a bench that was painstakingly designed to have literally no other function than being a bench.


There's a lesson in Public Relations here.

The designers were criticized for their anti-homeless, hostile architecture. If I were the designer, I was thinking to myself as to how I'd respond. My initial thoughts on what I could say:

1. "I was given a set of requirements and this is what meets the requirements."

2. "No comment. Please address your complaints to the city council who commissioned the benches."

3. "You don't want to sit on a urine-soaked bench, do you?"

4. "I'm sorry but I can't solve the homelessness problem."

They all sound defensive. What the designers actually said is excellent. It could be a lesson in Public Relations:

The designers said that: "Homelessness should never be tolerated in any society and if we start designing in to accommodate homeless then we have totally failed as a society. Close proximity to homelessness unfortunately makes us uncomfortable so perhaps it is good that we feel that and recognise homelessness as a problem rather than design to accommodate it."

That's curious, I find that statement so slimy I'm afraid to slip on it.

It tries to misdirect the conversation by painting the criticism as "not design to accommodate the homeless", when it actually was "don't design to purposefully exclude the homeless", which their design does at the expense of being worse for non-homeless people too (everyone may need to lie down sometimes).

It also indirectly portraits anything done to ameliorate a social ill negatively, which is a shitty thing to do.

Fuck me, that statement makes me angry. At least "just doing my job" is honest, now I'm hoping they go bankrupt.

I think your thought process is taking you for a ride. The designer’s answer (as self-serving as it may be) says that we should work to fix the root causes of homelessness and not just empower it.

Which is the whole misdirection I'm talking. Nobody criticized them for not "empowering homelessness".

> Close proximity to homelessness unfortunately makes us uncomfortable so perhaps it is good that we feel that and recognise homelessness as a problem rather than design to accommodate it

But they are designing benches so that homeless people don't bother others by sleeping on them. That reduces "proximity with homelessness" far more, than regular benches do.

Those actually look significantly better to me than the ones I regularly see in the US, with several "armrests" placed on a traditional bench in an attempt to prevent someone from using it as a place to sleep.

I have been out of Portland for 7 months, but are all of these still running? I recall one being installed on the SW riverfront that was almost immediately shuttered, I thought, due to successful vandalism/an inability to keep it functional. It just sat there unusable for ages - I ran by it nearly every day and evening for 5+ years (2013-2018) at was roped off the entire time.

That's odd. I'm certain I've used the one you're referring to in the last few years.

It's funny that one of the problems listed is the homeless washing themselves and their clothes in public bathroom sinks. It seems to me that public washrooms and laundry facilities would be a good thing. I seldom have someone sit next to me on the bus and think: "I wish they hadn't washed today."

Portland does have some day centers with laundry and showers, however the usage is way above capacity.

In the Netherlands, many of the toilets are pay (€0.50) and regularly cleaned by a full-time attendant. They are generally quite clean, even at train stations.

There are also male urinals which literally rise up out of the ground during weekends and festivals.


I think female versions of these exist too, but haven't seen.

  • No running water inside: "Some people, if they’re homeless,
  use a sink to wash their laundry," says DiBenedetto. 
  So there’s no sink
I find that a very strange feature. What is wrong with homeless people washing clothes in a public sink?

The issue are probably blocking the toilet and making a mess. I wonder though, should there then not be public sinks for this kind of thing somewhere else?

NYC needs these--plus, it would be a great test. Public restrooms or even stores/restaurants that will allow you to use their restrooms are rare indeed. Would be a great test of the design too. If your toilet can make it there, it can make it anywhere!

Can someone please sell these to San Francisco? PLEASE?!?!?

That may happen. San Francisco made a 20 year deal with JCDecaux for the existing public toilets. The 20 years are up and the Board of Supervisors is not going to renew.[1]

It's sad. A similar model works fine in Paris. It's way too complicated and expensive, though. I've looked over the mechanism when one was being repaired. It's all Telemechanique industrial control and automation gear. It needs to be more like a washing machine.

[1] https://missionlocal.org/2019/02/jcdecaux-toilet-contract-ma...

could you imagine if San Francisco put 10MM/yr into managing the homeless/drug-laden poop-fiasco? And if they even earned more by expanding the number of toilets? It might actually become a nice city again. I somehow suspect the city fat cats will find a way to make it terrible.

No pictures of the inside?

Lovely. Can’t wait to be able to review it on yelp

Well ok then, that makes me re-evaluate their "success".

Yuck! And no toilet paper?

There usually is toilet paper, but it's on a bar that prevents the rolls from spinning freely, making it hard to use larger amounts.

> The toilet has the dubious honor of being the city of Portland’s first patent.

Why 'dubious'?

This attitude is part the problem that public conveniences suffer under.

Surely it is glorious that Portland's first patent should be something so patently useful to the people.

> Why 'dubious'?

Because patents are often criticized, both specific ones as the whole concept of patents?

I am legitimately curious how a government entity can get a patent. Shouldn't anything funded with tax dollars automatically get put into the public domain?

no water inside... so no one is washing their hands?

When your child has a poo explosion you cant do a damned thing to clean up properly.

I wonder what the gastro bug pickup rate is like in portland...

If your child has a poo explosion, you can look pitiful and generally you'll get ushered through to use a toilet in a store (source: experience).

This would be pretty inconvenient, but to really deal with that situation requires wet wipes and a changing table. This is aimed at a different population who might otherwise just shit in the streets.

I mean, yeah - that sucks. But it's not what the thing is designed for. I watched a man stand slightly behind a construction sign on a downtown Seattle sidewalk and relieve himself in full view of a half dozen people yesterday. I believe that is the problem these toilets are aiming to solve.

A parent with poopocalypse on their hands, probably can find a store that sells wetwipes and most likely has a change-table equipped restroom.

The very next sentence says there's a cold water spigot outside, which is a totally fine solution.

Yeah, not really.

I dunno how many poo-apocalypses you've had to deal with... but they get messy.

I think it is mainly meant for homeless people so they don't just defecate in the street nonstop. I live in Seattle where there is a huge homeless problem and most businesses have codes on the bathrooms to only provide customers the option to use them.

Hmm? I just spent the evening in Ballard (tons of homeless people sleeping on the street! Really surprising, Market Street wasn't like this 3 years ago), yet none of the businesses I visited had locked or door coded bathrooms.

Same in Fremont, the coffee shops & restaraunts don't generally restrict access to the bathrooms in any noteworthy way, though some have a sign stating use should be limited to a few minutes.

Georgetown, Central District & Madison Park were also pretty similar last I checked, you'd be hard pressed to find bathrooms with codes on them.

I've lived in Seattle my whole life and the only bathrooms with codes I can think of off the top of my head are at Uwajimaya and Starbucks. The Thai place across from the restrooms at Uwajimaya has the code prominently displayed on a cardboard sign and we all know the new policy at Starbucks. Oh, the sketchy McDonalds on 3rd makes an employee buzz you in, but the other McDonalds a few blocks away has open restrooms. Dunno where gp is hanging out.

Also I have yet to see human excrement in the street, though I hear this is a big problem in SF.

OP is likely in a very small bubble (betting SLU or the south end of Downtown).

3rd ave McDonald's is a front for something IMO, perhaps the open air drug slinging that happens on that block? Its funny that 2 blocks away there is a much less sketchy McDonald's, seems like those franchises are way too close together.

Hopefully we don't end up with plentiful open defecation like SoCal. I'd take setting up public restrooms (that might become BJ shacks at times) over a public health crisis.

That sounds terrible! I can only imagine how inconvenient and messy it is to deal with.

With that said, there might be a minor distinction to be drawn between a solution that solves every use-case including yours and a solution that solves the most common use case of greatest policy concern. It is, of course, very possible and in fact very likely that I'm incredibly mistaken! In which case I welcome enlightenment.

Haha. Illegal activity is now carried out right in the street. Portland is not a success, it is a cautionary tail.

I think it's a matter of discipline. Well it's a nice topic you have. I think public toilets is not for bathing its for emergency reason. The outdoor toilets pittsburgh is successful too and it's very clean.

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