When you gotta go, it helps if there’s a toilet. In the Tenderloin, where public restrooms are scarce, people too often treat the streets and sidewalks as their toilet, say a group of residents trying to solve one of that neighborhood’s more vexing problems.
“It’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s a reality in this neighborhood,” said Dina Hilliard, manager of the Tenderloin Community Benefits District. “I’ve been a resident for 12 years, and I just get tired of looking at poop.”
So earlier this month, the district agreed to pay the San Francisco Rescue Mission $1,300 a month to open a small unisex bathroom to the public. The money will help pay for supplies and an employee to keep track of how many people use the restroom — and to give a little knock on the door if someone is taking too long.
While neighborhood nonprofits, soup kitchens and churches open their doors to the homeless for free food, there often isn’t a place for people to go to the bathroom.
“Obviously there’s a lot of people feeding people, so we thought it would be appropriate for those people to open their bathrooms to those folks,” Hilliard said. “What goes in must come out, and we’re not seeing the second part of that being addressed.”
While there are other bathrooms open to the public in the Tenderloin, more are clearly needed.
Hilliard said the three public pay toilets in the Tenderloin-Civic Center area do more harm than good. Years ago, she and others tried to get rid of the facility at Jones and Eddy streets because there was so much drug use going on inside.
District President Clint Ladine, the operations director at the Rescue Mission, also has seen area restrooms abused before and hopes that someone watching full-time will help deter drug use and other dangerous or illegal behavior.
“I’ve had a guy before who had a bottle of ammonia,” Ladine said. “He tried to kill himself in the bathroom by drinking ammonia. I’ve had an overdose. People take birdbaths all the time.”
So far, 100 men and 37 women have used the toilet with only one “incident,” Ladine said. He hopes the simple toilet and sink hidden in the back of a building at 140 Turk St. can help solve a much more complex problem.
But Ladine said the $1,300-a-month stipend may not be enough money to pay for plumbing issues. In May, the group will consider extending the project.