More than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for the city to install 10 new 24-hour public restrooms in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market districts.
The petition was created as a class project by freshman-year students at Minerva University, located on Market Street between Seventh and Eighth.
The students involved in the petition say they frequently see human waste littering the streets near their campus. “The stench, as a result of the public hygiene problem, is very noticeable,” says student Ranwa Kikhia.
They also want to bring dignity to the neighborhood's homeless population. Public restrooms “not only keep our streets sanitary, but also provide a link to humanity that often times homeless people do not get," says Zane Sand, another student on the project team.
While the petition does not outline exactly where the students would like to see the 10 new public restroom facilities placed, they say the need is greatest in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market.
The students kicked off the project by mapping existing public restrooms around the city, to better understand what facilities are already available. They discovered few restrooms in the downtown area, where many of the city's homeless services are concentrated. They also say that there are no free public bathrooms available in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market areas after 8pm.
According to SF Public Works, seven of the 11 staff-monitored public restrooms offered by the city's Pit Stop program sit within the Tenderloin and Mid-Market districts. The one that stays open latest, at 351 Ellis St., closes at 9pm.
“The need for 24-hour bathrooms is huge,” says Sand. “These individuals do not have another option to use the restroom.”
All of the first-year students involved in this project are San Francisco transplants; three were born outside of the U.S. They say that San Francisco's public restroom and homelessness dilemmas have stood out in comparison to their hometowns.
Ranwa Kikhia, a Libyan student who also lived in Jordan, spoke of the cultural differences in regards to urban bathrooms.
“Jordan, like the Middle East, emphasizes family relations, “ said Kikhia. “Even if someone cannot afford housing, they can depend on their relatives to provide them with one.”
”I believe having public toilets that are well kept, so that not only homeless people, but also tourists and citizens can use, will create a win-win situation for the city," added Thanh Nguyen, who hails from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Sand says he was surprised to see the petition, which was published on the site Care2, surpass its 15,000-signature goal in about two weeks. “The support we received from the site and the public far exceeded my expectations," he said.
The students plan to present the petition for 10 new public restrooms to city officials—which they hope will be followed up with the installation of the restrooms.
In the meantime, they're still collecting signatures, and encourage anyone who shares their views to add their name to the list.