D.C. Council Looking To Open More Public Bathrooms in City

Heather Curtis
WMAL.com

WASHINGTON (WMAL) – There are only three public restrooms open 24/7 in D.C. Those facilities are located at the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and Union Station. Wednesday the city council discussed a bill that would set up a working group to look into creating more public restrooms in the city and offering financial incentives to private businesses to get them to open their bathrooms to the public.

“I think there’s a willingness from the business community to step up to the plate, but they want to be in partnership with the District, and I think, as we’ve seen with Starbucks, they don’t want to be the only one doing it,” Will Handsfield with Georgetown’s Business Improvement District told the council.

Handsfield said, not surprisingly, many people use the bathroom at the two Starbucks locations in Georgetown as a public bathroom, which is becoming problematic. He believes Starbucks and other businesses would be willing to open their bathrooms to the public if the city reimbursed them for toilet paper, other supplies and the costs of having the bathrooms cleaned.

Handsfield said there is a proposal for a new boat houses in Georgetown, and there has been talk of building public bathrooms in that facility.

Proponents of the bill spoke about the importance of making more bathrooms available for the homeless.

“Like housing, having access to a restroom that is clean, safe, secure is a basic human right,” said Ashley Gorska with Miriam’s Kitchen, a non-profit that provides food and housing services to homeless Washingtonians.

Dr.Catherine Crosland with Unity Health Care said a lack of access to clean public bathrooms criminalizes homelessness. She said many of her patients have been arrested for urinating or defecating in public because they couldn’t find a bathroom to use.

Sheila White, a client at Miriam’s Kitchen and part of the non-profit’s People for Fairness Coalition, said one time she had to walk 10 blocks before someone let her use a restroom. She added even when she has bought something from a restaurant or store, she has often been refused access to the bathroom.

Handsfield said there isn’t one solution to end the problem. Instead, he said, a multi-pronged approach will be needed.

The council will vote on the legislation at a later date.

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