Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean Clean City attendant Erica Corona, left, watches as Sabrina Hollier walks up a step to use a public toilet at the Tenderloin Pit Stop in San Francisco (AP photos)
Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean
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Streets in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood are blocks away from the fancy stores and long lines of tourists waiting for cable cars. They are now cleaner since solar-powered toilets began rolling in.

The mobile bathrooms on wheels are guarded by attendants. The bathrooms have been so successful that city officials say Portland, Oregon, Honolulu and New York have inquired about them. The cities are seeking solutions for similar sanitation problems.

Supporters of the portable pit stops say having public bathrooms accessible has made the neighborhood more livable. The area has been known for crime, homelessness and poverty.

"Everyone has to go to the bathroom. That's not something anyone can stop," said Jane Kim. She is a San Francisco supervisor whose district includes the Tenderloin neighborhood. "This program affords people some dignity to take care of a human need."

Two portable toilets with sinks mounted on a trailer are hauled in by pickup trucks. They are moved in each Tuesday through Friday. They are placed in three spots near soup kitchens and park areas that attract large clusters of people. They are dropped off at 2 p.m. and taken out at 9 p.m. to be cleaned.

Attendants working for a nonprofit contracted by the city make sure the portable toilets stay sanitary. They keep them stocked with toilet paper, air freshener, soap, paper towels and seat covers. They also give users a courtesy knock after five minutes.

Kaven Harris, 54, said before the toilets were brought in, he was forced to go to the bathroom in parking lots. He would hide between cars.

"If this pit stop weren't here, I would be in a parking lot," said Harris. He is an Army veteran who has been living on the streets about six months. "There is no place to use the bathroom if you're homeless and don't have money."

The pilot program was inspired by a group of students at De Marillac Academy. It is a private Catholic school in the neighborhood. They read poems to city officials about their struggles growing up in the Tenderloin neighborhood.

"You had to be cautious and you had to be looking at the floor to make sure you didn't step on poop," student Karina Bonilla, 14, said. "But not anymore!"

On a recent afternoon, an attendant locked the bathrooms when there were no customers. The attendant swept the nearby area.

The success of the pilot program is largely due to the employees who make sure the bathrooms are not misused. That has happened with other public bathrooms, said Mohammed Nuru. He is the city's public works department director.

"We have seen huge success with staffing these facilities and making them decent for people," Nuru said.

Since the program started in July, requests to cleaning feces and urine off of sidewalks also have dropped by a third. The requests have gone from an average of 27 calls per weekday to about 15, Nuru said.

There are plans to set up more mobile bathrooms in other neighborhoods. Each costs the city about $100,000 per year per station. Officials have to allocate funds first. There are also plans to assign attendants to the 25 automated public bathrooms first installed 20 years ago throughout the city. They are so dirty that they are rarely used for their original purpose, Nuru said.

"The streets have been cleaner and smells aren't so bad," said Britney Pirring, a 13-year-old student at De Marillac Academy. "Now my brother and I can take our time on the streets walking to school."

Critical thinking challenge: How do the attendants contribute to the success of this initiative?

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COMMENTS (108)
  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/16/2015 - 09:09 p.m.

    I think that it is a good idea to use public toilets to people who are homeless because everybody needs to use the bathroom for keeping their hands clean from germs also using the toilet for privacy, too because the homeless wouldn't need to pay to use the bathroom in public places. Well if San Francisco is using the public bathroom that is hauled by trucks so it will move to places easier.

  • John0724-YYCA
    4/16/2015 - 09:17 p.m.

    It is a really god plan for them to have does pubic toilets because they have a guard for every public toilet they have so the homeless could use it but do not steal the soap or he paper towels because if they do then the other people who use it could not use the restroom well. So it was a good thing that they did all these about making public toilets.

  • KevinK-4
    4/16/2015 - 09:18 p.m.

    In this section it talks about these portable bathrooms that are being setup in New York. So there are these portable bathrooms that are being set up on the side of the street for people to use. The reason the city is adding these portable bathrooms is because there is very few public bathrooms in New York. Before those people were going to the bathroom on the streets and in parking lots. At each bathroom that is parked on the side of the street and each bathroom has an attendant that stays there at the bathroom all day to make things run smoothly and to keep the toilets clean.

  • ksadat-5
    4/17/2015 - 12:17 a.m.

    San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood has now become a whole lot cleaner. Due to new solar powered toilets, people can go to the bathroom while waiting for the cable car. Each bathroom is guarded by a bathroom monitor that makes sure you don't vandalize it or destroy it. This is a very eco friendly invention and will hopefully effect a lot of other places, such as Los Angeles California.

    This is a very interesting article. They have built solar powered toilets in order to maintain a cleaner and more eco friendly neighborhood in San Francisco. Not only is this revolutionary, but it is smart.

  • vincentg-2
    4/17/2015 - 01:03 a.m.

    This Article talks about how solar powered moving toilets in big cities increase sanitation. Cities like San Francisco Portland and New York have already participated in this experiment. The toilets have been placed in areas of communities where people are less fortunate and people say the areas become much more live able . I think this is a good idea because going to the bathroom is something that no one can stop. I just have gone question and that is how do these toilets get moved around.

  • RachelL-2
    4/17/2015 - 01:13 a.m.

    In this article, Tween Tribune talks about San Francisco having public toilets moved in. The city bought 3 (at a cost of $100,000 each), but having the toilets helps the homeless, so they don't have to do their dirty work between cars in parking lots. Since the toilets get cleaned a lot, they're sanitary with unlimited toilet paper, paper towels, soap, and seat covers.They are brought out to the streets at 2pm and taken out for cleaning at 9pm. These toilets have made a huge impact on keeping San Fran clean, thankfully. I liked this article, it was very informative.

  • sophies-4
    4/17/2015 - 02:02 a.m.

    This article is about toilets in wheels in San Francisco. The streets of Tenderloin in San Francisco are blocks away from the fancy stores and the busy street. The streets are now being kept clean by toilets on wheels. Since the area has been known for crime and homeless people, the toilets made the streets more livable. Places like Portland, Oregon, Honolulu, and New York have inquired about the toilets. I think it is great to have these portable toilets in the not so safe streets. With the attendants, the place seems like it would be more comfortable and safe.

  • ThomasC-2
    4/17/2015 - 03:17 a.m.

    When you think of a potable bathroom, you think of absolutely disgusting bathrooms with no sink to wash your hands, no air fresher, the toilet doesn't flush, and there's now toilet paper most of the time. Well, take those thoughts and flush them down the new generation of portable bathrooms. These new bathrooms come with air freshener, a sink, a clean seat, and toilet paper that's not slightly wet (thank lord). The program is located in San Francisco as of today, but as of the future, these bathrooms will be all over the populated urban areas. New York also needs to solve its sanitary issues, and so does Hawaii, Los Angles, and Chicago. I think that these bathrooms are in the right direction to a sanitary world, and I love the idea as long as the bathroom actually works.

  • KaylaJ-Ver
    4/17/2015 - 10:11 a.m.

    I think this is a great idea especially for busy cities because most restaurants And businesses now a days don't let you use the toilets unless you buy something, so I believe that this is a great addition to busy cities like San Francisco.

  • erinf-Eic
    4/17/2015 - 10:25 a.m.

    Okay, we all can agree nobody likes porta-potties they aren't the most clean thing to use in the world but it's better than using nothing.

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