City expands public toilets and hand washing stations as stop-gap in COVID-19 pandemic

The city is expanding the number of temporary hand washing stations like this one during the COVID-19 outbreak | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline
By Carrie Sisto - Published on April 08, 2020.

With Mayor London Breed under increasing scrutiny for the city's response to the unhoused population during the increasing public health crisis, the city yesterday expanded its effort to provide hand washing stations and toilets to unhoused residents during the COVD-19 pandemic.

The first deployment of five new stations is expected today, with another 10 expected to be in place by early next week.

The locations were initially recommended by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, who identified high-need areas based on the population and congregation of unhoused people.

New hand washing and toilet locations planned as of April 7, 2020 | Information courtesy of SF Public Works

San Francisco Public Works then evaluated the recommended locations and identified new priorities based on the sites’ proximity to existing public toilets, the slope of the streets and sidewalks, and the amount of space available at each site. 

The selection of new locations depended in part on the availability of existing public toilet options | Photo: Brittany Hopkins/Hoodline

Acting Public Works director Alaric Degrafinried said the extra bathrooms and hand washing stations “will help people take care of their basic needs with dignity and help keep our public spaces sanitary.” 

Urban Alchemy, a growing workforce development non-profit that already staffs the existing 24 Pit Stops throughout San Francisco, will provide attendants for the new locations as well, funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Mayor's office, according to Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon.

Gordon also said the city may deploy additional safety measures may for the staff overseeing the new Pit Stops and hand washing sites, but didn't provide additional details.

An updated map of services will be available via DHSH | Image: DHSH

Urban Alchemy staff will monitor each of the new toilet stations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and are trained to identify and respond to situations where people need emergency services. 

If further program expansion is necessary, the city may solicit additional non-profit workforce partners. Public Works anticipates deploying additional toilets, but would have to first secure additional rental units and ensure 24/7 staffing is available to support them, Gordon said.

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