By Olivia Glowacki
In the final weeks of November, nearing the end of a three-month pilot program for 24-hour public bathroom pit stops, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney alongside dozens of city advocates and activists joined together on the corner of Jones and Eddy streets at Bodekker Park to show support for the continuation of the pit stop program.
One of Haney’s budget items this year included funding for more pit stops around the city, and for existing ones to have expanded hours, some 24 hours. In a city constantly ridiculed for feces and urine on the streets, 24-hour pit stops seem like an obvious solution to a preventable problem. However, Haney’s plan was met with ambivalence from some city officials like Muhammed Nuru, director of the Department of Public Works, who remarked, “At 10 o’clock, most people are already sleeping, and so we don’t think we will get that many flushes.”
Contrary to Nuru’s negative and nonsensical notion that pit stops won’t garner users after 10 p.m., data collected from the Mayor’s office shows the opposite: a quarter of all flushes were during nighttime hours, equal to 10,518 flushes. Additionally, steam cleaning requests from unhappy neighbors decreased in places where pit stops were located.
This year saw a 30% increase in homelessness, according to the 2019 Point-in-Time count for San Francisco with over 8,000 folks experiencing homelessness on any given night. With the shelter shortage, one bed for every five folks on the street and the average wait time being two months to secure a 90-day bed, thousands of people are relegated to living outdoors, in the streets and in parks with scarce access to public restrooms. These pit stops offer people a safe and dignified space to perform necessary and basic bodily functions. And while these pit stops are exceptionally important for people experiencing homelessness, everyone benefits from free and public access to bathrooms. Haney, whose district includes the Tenderloin, put it simply, “children, seniors, tourists, taxi drivers, couriers, Uber drivers, people leaving bars, neighborhood residents, anyone and everyone because all people poop and pee.”
As mentioned, the three-month pilot program came to a celebratory close as Haney called upon Mayor London Breed to expand pit stops and keep the existing 24 hour pit stops open. Breed agreed to keep the three 24-hour pit stops open, but more are still needed if the success of the pit stops is to continue, and they should be placed where they are most needed.
“The City loves to use data — especially 311 calls — to target how and where to deploy it’s resources,” Brian Edwards, an advocate at the Coalition on Homelessness, said. “Encampment sweeps for instances are often driven by 311 complaints which the City responds to by deploying SFPD officers and DPW disposal crews. But when it was time to choose the location for a Tenderloin pilot 24-hour pit stop, the Department of Public works came up with a location that could be intimidating and triggering for some folks — about 50 feet from the Tenderloin police station. This site wasn’t selected based on data analysis showing the location had the greatest need — on the contrary, it feels like it was chosen to fail. Nuru has called unhoused San Franciscians ‘street people’ on multiple occasions and overseeing a City department that regularly steals and destroys the property of our most vulnerable residents, he consistently demonstrates he has little interest in homeless folks except when sweeping.”
Cheryl Shanks, a formerly homeless woman and current activist with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation who organized the rally to support the expansion of the 24-hour pit stops, said, “In San Francisco, the highest group of homeless people are contained in D6 Tenderloin. We have a right to have 24-hour pit stops. Two are good, but not enough. We will fight to have more. This is a human right. We will not be quiet, we will continue to fight!”
Even with the 24-hour pit stops, there are still massive unmet needs for those experiencing homelesseness, especially for those who menstruate. The pit stops offer refuge and privacy but do not have free menstruation products like tampons or pads, which are costly necessities. One transitional-aged youth from the Homeless Youth Alliance recalls, “I was like 13 walking around downtown. My brother was like, ‘All right, we need feminines, we are going to Larkin!’ because I was the only girl. It was so bad, but (my brother) raised me really nice. That’s how I found out how to get what I need.” She added, with a laugh, “But it’s really important, and a lot of people don’t think about it. It’s like the best thing to give to a lady out on the street. Just saying. Feminine hygiene.”
To piggyback on her comment, not all those who identify as a “lady” menstruate, similarly people who identify as a man or non-binary menstuate too and face further stigma when trying to access menstruation products. Making menstruation products available in the pit stops would greatly help those otherwise unable to access these products. While there is still work to do to make pit stops more accessible, maintaining the pilot 24-hour pit stops is a step in the right direction.