Individuals in downtown Austin could have more restroom options under a resolution approved Jan. 13 by the city council’s Health and Human Services Committee.
The resolution, sponsored by District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo, would provide free, 24-hour public toilets to benefit families with young children, bicyclists, runners, homeless individuals and late-night crowds who enter the streets after bars close.
Tovo said several Austin waterways have elevated levels of bacteria caused by animal and human waste, which poses a health risk to residents. She said many homeless people use the streets and alleys as a restroom.
“I think that is not only unhealthy … but also inhumane,” she said.
According to the resolution, the facilities typically cost between $90,000 and $150,000. The resolution directs the city manager to convene stakeholders—including Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, Front Steps, Caritas, the Salvation Army and the Downtown Austin Alliance—to come up with recommendations about facility options, locations and funding. The city manager is expected to report back to the committee at its March meeting.
Council members Tovo, Delia Garza and Ora Houston voted in favor of the ordinance. Council Member Ellen Troxclair abstained.
During discussions, Troxclair named several cities, including San Diego, Boston and Seattle, that tried to open 24-hour free public toilets, but the facilities were not maintained and became a haven for prostitutes and drug users.
“I feel like we don’t have a lot of info about the things we’re voting on today,” she said.
Garza suggested adding The Trail Foundation to the stakeholder group. She said the foundation provides public restrooms on many of Austin’s trail, and the facilities are kept in good condition.