After a couple of weeks of emailing the Olympia City Council about the need for better public facility access in downtown Olympia, I went to the City Council meeting and asked them face to face to commit a staff person to taking part in meetings to explore the possibilities.
I did not get a yes to the staff commitment idea, but I did get a pretty reasonable reception and responses from several council persons. There seems to be an understanding that more facility access is needed. I was encouraged by the responses. Also, big thank you to Paul for standing up to second my request. I think Paul was persuasive because he spoke from first person perspective of a guy who does not currently have good access to facilities. Paul mentioned that there is limited public facility access after-hours in Oly is at the Transit Center and out at the Marina.
Here is my current thinking on this issue: We need to convene meeting(s) with representatives from the City and from General Administration to talk about the possibility of opening up bathrooms. We need to include the downtown business owners, social service agency reps, and spokespersons from the houseless population to discuss a trial run of expanded bathroom access.
I wrote to General Administration yesterday and asked them to review the availability of public facility access in the areas that GA controls. Haven’t heard back yet.
The obvious trial model would be to open the bathrooms either at Heritage Park or Percival Landing for longer hours. I think it is important that we get buy-in from the the folks on the street who would use the facilities. That community needs to understand that the City and GA are rightly worried about property destruction, vandalism and increased infrastructure costs related to taking this step.
Here are my comments to the City Council from last night:
First, thank you for your service to the community.
I am here tonight to the City Council to take tangible steps to beautify downtown Olympia by increasing access to public bathrooms. We hear complaints on a regular basis that the sidewalks, streets and alleys of downtown Olympia are like a public sewer. Here are a couple of facts to consider in that regard:
First: if you are broke and on the streets of Olympia at 10 or 11 pm and you need to find a toilet, you are out of luck.
Second: nobody wants to be in that position.
The City is in a position to do something about this problem.
We are living through the worst economic downturn of our lifetimes. The State and Federal governments are attempting to fix their revenue problems by cutting services and funding to people who are in dire need of support. Many people with no other options are now living on the streets. Criminalizing poverty is not the answer. I don’t think that increasing access to public facilities is the answer either, but it is a good place to start.
I would like to see the City of Olympia step up and find a way to make the public facilities of the City more available. I have also invited General Administration to take part in public meetings to discuss this problem. I request that the City assign a staff person to take part in public meetings with downtown business owers, representatives from social service agencies, General Administration and individuals who are attempting to survive on the street to discuss better public facility access. I think think you have all received my recent emails on this matter. You have an opportunity to be part of the solution to this problem. I look forward to hearing back from you.
More on this matter soon. A big public thank you to the City Council for their thoughtful responses to my request.