2019-01-10 / Front Page

Portable toilet to be installed downtown

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Following the lead of Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center to aid the city’s homeless, the Biddeford Finance Committee has approved adding a public restroom to be placed in a currently unspecified location downtown.

The decision to pursue a public restroom came following a presentation to the city council on Dec. 4 by The Rev. Shirley Bowen, executive director of Seeds of Hope on South Street. Seeds of Hope celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2018, and offers community members a drop-in center with access to food, clothing and career resource center.

“I wanted to come before city council because our community is hurting,” said Bowen during the Dec. 4 presentation. “Some may not realize it yet, but when some of us suffer, we all suffer.”

With the city fielding an influx of people moving to the area, the rising costs of rent have forced Biddeford residents out of their homes and onto the street at an alarming rate, Bowen said. The school system has confirmed that there are about 50 homeless students in Biddeford, she added. Seeds of Hope began a homelessness initiative with other organizations to work on finding solutions to the growing problem. Other affiliated organizations include Heart of Biddeford, Biddeford Housing Authority, Maine Way, Biddeford Police Department, McArthur Library, Esther House, York County Community Action, the office of Sen. Angus King, Volunteers of America, and Southern Maine Health Care, as well as private residents.

As part of the current initiative for short-term solutions to the homelessness problem, Bowen expressed the need for those who live on the street to have a safe and legal place to park, should they need to sleep in their car, and access to a restroom and running water.

“Our first concern is for the dignity and safety of those who are suffering,” Bowen said. “But the second is the message this is sending to those who visit us. What if they’re walking in the park and see someone going to the bathroom because there isn’t anywhere else to go?”

Nancy Loeffler of Afford-A-Potty out of Pennsylvania provided a quote for a portable, handicap toilet for $203.92 a month. The price includes delivery and pickup, as well as cleaning once a week, with additional cleanings available at $60 each.

During a Dec. 18 finance committee meeting, City Council President John McCurry of Ward 2 proposed the portable toilet as a solution to a problem that public defecation in planters and on sidewalks causes for both the public works and police departments. McCurry said he would leave the placement of the toilet up to city staff, but recommends that wherever the location be, that it be bolted to the ground to prevent it from tampering.

“I think it’s worth the effort to at least try to do something instead of doing nothing,” McCurry said.

Ward 7 Councilor Michael Ready said he was concerned about having the toilet cleaned only once a week, and thought the number of cleanings should be increased even during the initial trial period this spring. Ready also suggested that an enclosure be used to shield the toilet, like those placed at city beaches. According to McCurry, he would like to see the toilet placed downtown before spring, and requested regular updates as to the state of the toilet so the committees involved can reevaluate the strategy of the trial period regularly before summer.

“I couldn’t be happier that this is moving forward. It’s a huge step in providing basic dignity for those who live outside, that they have access to a toilet 24/7,” said Bowen during a Jan. 8 phone interview, adding that Mechanics Park is a possible location for the toilet. “This helps honor their dignity to make the choices that most of us do all the time.”

City Manager James Bennett said public works staff will decide how many times the restroom needs to be cleaned. McCurry said the consensus had been that there may need to be as many as three cleanings a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but said that would significantly increase the price. The additional cleanings, up from the four included in the original price to an additional eight at $60 per, would add $480 to the cost of operation monthly.

“I think it’s a good step in the right direction,” McCurry said.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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