In much the same manner that the ultimate solution to homelessness is homes, the means of preventing urine and feces on the street is toilets:

Put simply, the money spent providing for hundreds of thousands of bathroom uses per year -- millions since the program's inception -- is money you don't spend power-washing urine and feces off the street. It's money you don't spend gathering needles out of gutters and planters and sand boxes.

It's money you don't spend cleaning up dogshit, either.

Not only is providing a place for people to sanitarily relieve themselves or safely dispose of needles a decent thing to do, it's also bottom-line beneficial: As is the case with every other element of administering to the homeless population, things cost so much more when you react, rather than act.

The Pit Stop program's annual budget is now $3.1 million. Out of context, that's a fair amount of money; a single Pit Stop can cost between $170,000 and $205,000 a year to operate, with labor making up most of the costs. But, as a point of comparison, the city spends upwards of $1.19 million per year on toilet paper.

San Francisco, meanwhile, puts a jaw-dropping $65 million toward cleaning its streets; Mayor Mark Farrell dolloped an additional $12.8 million into street-cleaning in the latest budget cycle alone.

It is, frankly, difficult to say this glut of street-cleaning funds is money well-spent. Without providing people with a place to relieve themselves, putting ever more money into street-cleaning is a bit like buying a bigger bucket instead of patching the hole in the boat.

As we noted last week, cleaning the streets is reactive. Even Mayor London Breed's headline-grabbing "poop patrols" are merely proactively reactive. Power-washing filth off the streets will always be a necessity in this and every city. But, even viewed merely as a spreadsheet item and giving no consideration to human dignity, Pit Stops aren't just an expense -- they're an investment. In June of 2014, there were 742 requests for steam-cleaning in the Tenderloin. Three years and multiple Pit Stops later, in June of last year, there were 298.

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6 Responses:

  1. Thomas Lord says:

    In my personal view of Berkeley (I have some involvement with the City government and local politics)....

    A loud, moneyed minority of residents hold the view that the poor (homeless or not) are just so many unbranded chattel, a feral herd on the loose that threatens to overwhelm the City and its resources. It is the solemn - but neglected - duty of higher jurisdictions (the state, the feds, Donald Trump, god) to take charge of this herd and ensure, at the very least, that Berkeley suffers no more than its "fair share" (however defined).

    In the meanwhile, anything that might seem common sense to you or I - bathrooms, safe places to sleep or rest, etc. - is in essence a personal attack on those influential Berkeleyans. There are some rare, cynical exceptions - we may soon get one new public bathroom for all the wrong reasons(*).

    There is some positive feedback here. The more common sense measures are blocked, the worse conditions get. The worse conditions get, the more credible these cretins come off to the casually inattentive.

    A majority faction of Council, for its part, is cowed by that inhumane crowd but insists on portraying themselves as the hardest workers ever who promise to "end homelessness in Berkeley" any day now. For example, they built one shiny, expensive shelter in order to close a much larger, less expensive, well-functioning shelter. They get their performance numbers up by paying the bulk of someone's rent for 9 months and they claim to have found permanent housing for them. "And we could do more, if only the county/state/feds would give us more money."

    Meanwhile, it is a constant and only sometimes successful endeavor to keep the police and public works department from going around stealing blankets and tents and the last few personal effects of shattered lives. The local bitch-ass blog that some people turn to for "news" has even gotten to witness close up the descent of a bewildered woman who, with her kid, is suddenly on the unsheltered street having had her RV seized. Her kid. She was flouting the RV laws to keep the kid enrolled in school.

    Pit Stop's are only an "investment" if your perspective rejects the idea of a final expulsive solution, pushing the homeless once and for all AWAY. Away to anywhere. Away to nowhere. It makes no difference. Just AWAY. That's the game and the rule of the game is to promote without saying it quite so directly.


    (*) Ah, yes. Berkeley's soon to be new toilet. All the powers that be have aligned behind at least one. One crapper just off Telegraph Ave. Somewhere near Haste. Why? Well, to grease the skids for the razing and redevelopment of People's Park.

    That's right guys: People's Park is on the chopping block and its looking grim. The architect's drawings are in. The builder is lined up. And the poor people - of an average complexion much darker than most of Berkeley, no less -- the poor people are essentially lined up too: lined up against the wall.

  2. MattyJ says:

    Yes on C, please!

  3. Line Noise says:

    The company I work for supports Australian charity Orange Sky which provides mobile showering and clothes washing facilities to the homeless. They do a great job!

    Thankfully, public toilets are still pretty common here in Australia.

  4. phuzz says:

    But if you provide toilets then you're close to having to acknowledge that homeless people are human beings.

  5. Andrew Klossner says:

    Paris has open-air urinals to reduce urination on sidewalks. Much cheaper than full-function public toilets.

  6. TimeDoctor says:

    We just got more sit-lie/sidewalk blocking laws here in Hawaii like it's 1902!

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