Nearly a year after portable outdoor bathrooms were removed from downtown Bangor due to major vandalism, an advocate for the area’s growing homeless population says the city needs to add new public bathrooms downtown.
Brian Pitman, spokesperson for the Greater Bangor Houseless Collective, said it was the city’s responsibility to provide and maintain sufficient and adequate bathrooms for its residents as it is considered a public service. The city, however, has reported that staffing limitations are hampering its ability to add more bathrooms downtown.
Bangor City Council voted unanimously in April 2021 to place outdoor public restrooms in high traffic areas, primarily for the city’s homeless population. The bathrooms cost $70,000 a year and were supplied by Casella. Units have been placed in Broad Street Park and behind the Hope House, which provides health care and housing for the city’s homeless, according to Courtney O’Donnell, deputy city manager and director of human resources.
In early August 2021 however, Casella removed public toilets from Broad Street Park after being repeatedly abused. O’Donnell said trash and needles were thrown into the unit and human waste covered the walls.
According to Brian Pitman, the decrease in the number of public toilets in the city center can have a direct impact not only on the city’s homeless population, but also on those who must use the toilet frequently due to disability, illness or their age.
“It can limit the time people spend in town because they have to structure their day around when they need to go to the bathroom,” Pitman said.
If the city were to provide more public restrooms, Pitman said it would likely encourage people to spend more time downtown because they could access facilities when needed rather than going elsewhere.
In late August 2021, Casella removed the outdoor public bathroom behind Hope House for the same reason — repeated and widespread vandalism and misuse that made the unit unsafe to clean, O’Donnell said.
“At that time we contacted a neighboring agency who were actively monitoring and cleaning the bathroom on a regular basis, and were advised that due to safety issues they could no longer service the unit and requested that it be withdrawn,” O’Donnell said.
Since then, Hope House has not had any issues with residents or non-residents abusing or vandalizing the building’s toilets, according to Kate Carlisle, spokeswoman for Penobscot Community Health Care, which oversees Hope House.
Although outdoor bathrooms have been removed, public buildings including the Harbormaster building on the waterfront, City Hall, and the Bangor Public Library continue to offer public bathrooms.
Bangor City Manager Debbie Laurie said the transit center currently under construction in Pickering Square will also have public restrooms when it opens in October. The building will be staffed, she said, giving the city a way to monitor and maintain the facilities.
Ben Treat, director of the Bangor Public Library, said he was aware of the use of illegal substances in the library’s bathrooms, but had not seen any significant vandalism in the facilities .
“Drug use in the library is not safe, and we do everything we can to limit both the opportunity and the appearance of opportunity to use substances in the bathroom,” said Treat.
In the past year, the library has applied to police for 49 criminal trespass orders to prevent disruptive people from re-entering the building. Of those, 16 involved observed substance use and several others were likely linked to people under the influence of illegal drugs, Treat said.
The library has also served as a hub for dozens of homeless people as it is one of the few places in Bangor where people can escape the elements and access free resources like wireless internet, a computer and the restroom .
Treat said the library has increased patrols of library spaces, including its restrooms.
“These patrols are intended both to project our occupancy of unstaffed spaces and to identify unacceptable behavior before it is encountered by customers,” Treat said.
Laurie said the city continues to look at ways to provide public restrooms, but staffing is a major hurdle because the city needs someone to monitor the facilities to ensure they are used in a safe manner. and appropriate.
If the city attempted to provide public restrooms again, Pitman agreed with the city’s intention to have a staff member oversee the facilities to discourage vandalism and abuse. Bathrooms, however, should remain open 24/7, he said.
“If it’s illegal to use the toilet in public and the library is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., when are people who live outside supposed to use the toilet when it’s closed?” Pitman said.
He also recommended that needle drop boxes be included in the facility, as this would prevent needles from being disposed of inappropriately. This would serve not only people with substance use disorders, but anyone who needs to inject themselves during the day, such as someone with diabetes who needs insulin.
Pitman also recommended the city look to Portland, which used $600,000 of U.S. federal bailout funds to add three new single-cab restrooms downtown. The toilets are portable, flushless and made of aluminum instead of plastic. They will have ventilation, solar-powered lighting and secure boxes for sharp objects.
“When you try to be inclusive for your most marginalized people, it ends up benefiting everyone else in the long run,” Pitman said.