The Pittsburgh Potty, the city's first temporary public restrooms, a woman walked up and asked, "Are those porta-potties open?"
A small crowd consisting of press members, Downtown business representatives, and government leaders gathered for the unveiling of The Pittsburgh Potty, a mobile bathroom trailer stationed at the corner of Stanwix Street and Liberty Avenue. The event kicked off a six-month, $2 million pilot project aimed at providing a temporary solution to the lack of public bathrooms Downtown, all while the city moves forward on developing permanent facilities.
The Gateway Center Pittsburgh Potty location will be open to the public on Sat., Sept. 16, right on time for crowds heading to the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Pirates game, and other Downtown events happening this weekend.
A second temporary public bathroom will open next week at Smithfield Street and Strawberry Way.
While some speakers could not help but titter at having to repeatedly say the word "potty" — Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey even jokingly asked attendees to "go to the bathroom" with him so they could see inside the trailer — the program signals a step towards addressing some of the problems many believe have been plaguing Downtown.
As Gainey points out, the Pittsburgh Potty bathrooms — which will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and will be regularly maintained and managed by a cleaning team — are, in part, designed to help with public health issues attributed to the growing population of unhoused people Downtown, who advocates say have few humane options due to the closing or partial closing of two shelters. (The Smithfield Street-Strawberry Way trailer will sit near the Smithfield United Church of Christ, where many unhoused residents have continued to gather despite the shelter there being shut down in June.)
Gainey sees Pittsburgh Potty as offering a humane alternative for unhoused people who otherwise cannot access restrooms.
"We can't have people just out here going anywhere," Gainey said. "So we have to create places for them to go. If not, then what we're saying is, we just want to get rid of the unsheltered ... and every city is dealing with it, and every city knows that it's not going away no time soon. ... All the pandemic did was reveal what we already knew, that we had a homeless population. And so if we're not finding ways to structure that community, we're just leaving it up to chaos. I don't want chaos, I want structure."
The Stanwix/Liberty trailer offers three restrooms equipped with running water, electricity, lighting, and adjustable heating and cooling, as well as an ADA-compliant ramp. It also features facilities to dispose of needles, a notable addition given the concerns around drug use Downtown.
Each Pittsburgh Potty restroom will, according to a press release, "undergo regular servicing, cleaning and monitoring by PDP team members, as well as be supported by Outreach and Public Safety providers from the City, County and non-profit community."
The PDP also launched a new webpage with details on the Pittsburgh Potty, as well as a directory of other public restrooms located in various buildings throughout Downtown, including the Carnegie Public Library, Allegheny County Courthouse, City-County Building, and Point State Park.
The Pittsburgh Potty bathrooms are a result of collaboration between a number of local organizations, including the Building Owners & Managers Association of Pittsburgh and Point Park University. BOMA president Ed Page, who also spoke at the event, said the organization worked with 10 doctoral PPU students on a report looking at how the lack of public restrooms discourages people from visiting Downtown and creates issues for vulnerable groups.
The report, which is titled "WHERE CAN WE GO?: How Improving Restroom Facilities in Downtown Pittsburgh Will Create Positive Outcomes for Businesses, Tourism, and All Residents," argues that, “Public restrooms are not only a necessity for individuals who are working in or visiting the Downtown area, but … also have become an issue of human dignity for individuals who are experiencing homelessness who may not have access to clean and safe restroom facilities."
Page added that BOMA is "committed to spearheading the next two phases of the program," alongside the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, and the mayor's office, to open to the public several existing bathrooms in select parking garages, as well as 3-5 permanent locations throughout the city.
Regardless of who's using them, Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the PDP, believes the Pittsburgh Potty program, and continuing work on creating permanent facilities, will benefit everyone.
"Amenities like public restrooms have often been overlooked but is essential to making our city center a clean and welcoming place for the 90,000 residents, workers, and visitors who come through Downtown Pittsburgh every single day," said Waldrup. "The one thing we all have in common, all 90,000 of us, is that we need to go. It's a basic human need, and a universal human right to have access to clean, accessible, and safe spaces to go to the restroom."