DC bill seeks to provide public restrooms for homeless

It has likely happened to most of us - you are walking around the nation's capital and you need to use the bathroom, but a local business tells you its bathrooms are for paying customers only. A D.C. council member said that needs to change and she has introduced a bill aiming to give bathroom access to all.

One idea that is being mentioned is small public restrooms that could be built all over the city to give people a place to go. In Portland, Oregon, the city has sturdy flush toilet kiosks called Portland Loos. The kiosks are free to the public and are available to use at any time of the day.

D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) said she heard about the idea from a homeless advocacy group who said they are much needed, especially for the homeless. One D.C. homeless woman we spoke with told us this is a problem that affects many people.

"It's very tough to use the bathroom," said Valerie Hart. "You go into places, you have to buy stuff in order to get the code to go to the bathroom … We are not just speaking of homeless people. We are speaking about people that work every day that can't even afford to buy stuff to use the bathroom."

Keep in mind, Nadeau's proposal will not include regulation on businesses forcing them to let people use their restrooms. Instead, Nadeau has an idea that may encourage businesses to welcome those who need to go.

"This bill actually asks the task force to come up with an incentive plan similar to what London has where the businesses receive a certain incentive for opening their doors to the public and they would put a sign up that says, 'You can go here' or something clever like that," she said.

So how much would the incentive be and how much would it cost the city? And how many and where could these proposed public restrooms be placed in the city? That has not been worked out yet, but Nadeau said she would like to see them in the core of the city where you have the most foot traffic.