In the weeks since the first downtown porta-pottie was furnished to Salem’s homeless by a group of local women, another has been placed and organizers say the two are already creating a substantially safer city.
The effort began earlier this year when Rebecca Courtney, curator at downtown’s Roger Yost Gallery, noticed an increase in human feces in downtown Salem that she felt created a biohazard. Realizing that Salem, like many cities, was facing an increase of houseless people with very few options for this essential human need, Courtney and local business people, social services agencies and members of the faith community, erected the first temporary pottie structure in the parking lot of the First Congregational United Church of Christ at Marion and Cottage streets in June.
The second, behind the Salem Arts Building and Court and State streets, was placed three weeks ago.
The new pottie is emptied once a week and the Church one is emptied twice a week. The result, Courtney says, “is 45-gallons fewer of solid waste every week in our immediate area.”
Verena Wessel, Community Relations Manager for Northwest Human Services who has worked on the project for months, reports that no health or criminal incident has occurred at either pottie, and suggests that’s because the team, “isn’t talking at the local houseless people but instead we’re talking with them. They’re watching over the potties and they’re so grateful for them.”
Courtney reports that she’s gotten numerous calls from other localities since Salem Weekly’s first story ran, (“Let’s get the pottie started,” June 11, 2015) asking her for details and information. “We’ve heard from as far away as Calgary, Canada,” she says. “We’ve heard from the city of Newberg, and now representatives from the city government in Eugene are coming up to visit and learn more. We’re thrilled to be reducing biohazard and dangers to the environment, since waste formerly ran into the Willamette River through storm drains.”
In conversation with the houseless people they are serving, the group of women say the only complaints they have received are multiple concerns about the only known downtown pottie owned and maintained by the City of Salem, located in Marion Square Park on Commercial Street NE.
“We’ve been repeatedly told it’s not being emptied frequently enough,” Wessel says. “The waste level gets so high it reaches where you sit. We hope the city will empty it more frequently for proper maintenance.”
The matter of the city-owned park facility may receive attention at a August 31 Salem City Council work session on Public Restrooms. A work session is a chance for council members to discuss an issue; the public is invited to listen. At that time, council is expected to discuss the problem of feces in the street and possible options for responding. Public restrooms will not be on the agenda for the council meeting later that evening.
Of their own facilities, the “arta-pottie posse” anticipates they will install a third facility in October, and are hopeful it will be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol. Funded by Northwest Human Services, this pottie will be the first to be decorated with the art theme the group conceived of for all of its facilities.
The new pottie will be “wrapped” in non-toxic, recyclable graffiti-proof laminate by Adam Navarro of Salem’s Clean Slate Group. The subject will be an attractive historic photo of the Capitol building.