Denver’s Toilet Talk

By Matthew Van Deventer  |  Photo by Giles Clasen

Initially, Denver’s public toilet talk was a part of a greater look into mitigating conflict between the homeless and a growing city. Demands for these facilities, however, are now being voiced not only by the homeless but the community at large. 

The city’s toilet working group, partly consisting of Councilwoman Robin Kniech and Denver Public Works, will research facility technologies in detail, look at the engineering needs of installing the facilities, seek fundraising sources, and decide on what kind of maintenance will be needed. 

“I think this is important that this helps to solve something for the homeless, but I think it’s so positive that the community response so far and the media response has been really clear about how broadly this effects people,” said Councilwoman Kniech. “I think the more we can recognize our commonalities, the better solutions we have.” 

In 2014, the Denver Police Department issued 481 citations for public urination, only 40 percent of which were issued to people experiencing homelessness. 

“The problem with citation data,” said District 6 Lieutenant John Coppedge, “is that those are the crimes that the officer saw, so it doesn’t really track how many times we don’t see it happen.”

Councilwoman Kniech recognized several challenges she pledges to take into consideration during the coming planning months, including facility lighting and location, monitoring the bathrooms with exterior cameras, and making sure they are used only as bathrooms. 

Other issues she noted were facility hours, water access, needle disposal, employing the homeless as facility attendants, and rewarding the business community to allow people to use their bathrooms. 

Some action can be taken to mitigate risks though, such as safe needle drops in the bathrooms. Limiting the time each person has in the bathroom can discourage prostitution, as well as not drying the floors after the interior is washed.  

The city has begun looking at case studies on public toilet facilities installed in other cities. The Exceloo is one facility the city has looked at. Exceloos play classical music in the bathrooms, which can deter vandalism, and self-clean after each use. Portland Loo is another facility the city has seen case studies on. The Portland Loo has open vents on the top of the facility, venting in voices, noise, and weather from outside, which can also deter long use and vandalism. Portland Loos are cleaned twice daily. 

Once more information is available, a public meeting will be held. Ultimately though, action will be up to the Mayor’s office and the experts at DPW. ■