94,000 people have used (flushed?) Denver’s mobile toilets, and more are coming

Some people don’t want bathrooms near them, and yet everyone has to use the bathroom.
3 min. read
Paul Grogan, a restroom attendant, outside the city of Denver’s portable bathroom unit on East Colfax. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

There's always a market for toilets. And these days, sinks with soap and water.

Now Denverites will likely see more public restrooms, which are actually somewhat rare, thanks to a $3.5 million deal with Liberty Waste Management that would add a mobile restroom trailer to the city's stock and a bathroom to Sonny Lawson Park in Five Points, among more expensive things. The contract with Liberty Waste Management will also provide portable toilets (plus cleaning and maintenance) on an on-call basis for special events and emergencies over the next three years.

On Tuesday, the Denver City Council's finance committee advanced the contract to a vote of the full council.

Denver started deploying mobile restrooms in 2016 to give people, particularly people without homes, a place to do their business and wash up. It wasn't just about convenience. It was about curbing diseases like hepatitis A.

"This has been a pretty important contract to support health department response and be able to facilitate hand-washing needs, not just with hepatitis A but as we look forward with coronavirus now, there's a lot of demands for hand-washing in certain areas," said Danica Lee, director of Denver Public Health and Environment's inspection unit.

The on-call contract will support the city's homeless shelters, but also its parks and other areas where temporary bathrooms are necessary, like at the airport where construction projects could demand them.

Everyone has to go, but not everyone likes the mobile bathrooms, which have moved around the Capitol Hill, downtown and Ballpark areas.

While some business owners have reported less human waste around their properties, city officials said they've received complaints from others who worry about drug use and, as City Councilwoman Robin Kniech put it, simply don't like seeing public restrooms and the people who use them.

"I try to remind folks that people have hung out on Colfax long before public restrooms arrive," said Kniech, who spearheaded the project four years ago. "Those tensions are going to require us as council members to dig in more for the program to really succeed."

An attendant monitors each trailer, and they're usually "vulnerable" residents who need a job, Kniech said. They're recruited from the Denver Day Works program.

There's no doubt the public restrooms fill a need. Cue the stats, which is what you're here for.

More than 250 people use the toilets daily, according to city-led surveys answered by more than 46,000 people.

Almost 94,000 people have used the toilets since they were installed, mostly people who identify as men -- 58 percent.

And it's not just people experiencing homelessness who use bathrooms! Thirty-seven percent of people surveyed at the toilets said they work nearby. About 31 percent volunteered that they were homeless. And about 20 percent said they were commuting.

The most common age group is 31 to 59, followed by 19 to 30. Young people and people over 60 don't use the bathrooms all that often, data shows.

But here's the clincher: More than 99 percent of people said the bathrooms were in "excellent condition." Sparkling clean! No word yet on whether the city will rent these things out for your private event.

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