If you’ve ever stepped over piles of feces on the sidewalk and silently wondered if they’re from a dog or a human, or held your breath as you walked down a SoMa alley on a sunny day, you know the city is in need of more public toilets. With more than 7,000 people living on our streets and countless others struggling to find bathrooms each day, stumbling across one another’s waste in public spaces has become part of living in San Francisco (and frankly, many large American cities). No one wants to use the bathroom in public, but when nature calls and someone doesn’t have a home or the money to pay a business to use their facility, they’re left with little choice.
Or they were, until 2014, when the city launched its Pit Stop program, a mobile, staffed porta-potty station that rolls into neighborhoods and offers people a safe place to do their business. A partnership with JC Decaux, which operates the large green toilets across the city, has expanded the program beyond the Tenderloin to the Mission, SoMa, Civic Center, Mid-Market, Bayview, Castro, and the Haight. (The latter’s is particularly charming, as the toilets are hidden inside wooden “Painted Ladies” — no doubt to appease the tourists.)
Nearly three years later, the 18th Pit Stop has opened in its ninth neighborhood citywide — Lower Polk. On Monday, the Department of Public Works announced that the Pit Stop will operate at Larkin and Myrtle streets, next to Sgt. John Macaulay Park, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The new Pit Stop, which has the blessing of the Lower Polk Neighborhood Association, will be staffed by members of Hunters Point Family, a nonprofit that provides job opportunities for people who were formerly incarcerated.
“Our Pit Stop program is a win-win for communities – we want our streets to be safe and clean, and we want every one of our residents to carry themselves with dignity,” Mayor Mark Farrell said in a statement Monday. “These resources have a proven record of transforming neighborhoods and I am glad to see that Lower Polk is the latest community to benefit from this program.”
The toilet program is taking off, with approximately 300,000 flushes logged per year — or, one flush every two minutes. It’s a no-brainer that providing people with places to do their business will increase the cleanliness of our city streets. In an ideal world, we’d have one on every block.