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One of three public port-a-potties that Brattleboro has installed in various downtown locations. This one is in the High-Grove parking lot.

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Brattleboro installs three portable toilets

For town officials, the move is a matter of public dignity and public health

BRATTLEBORO—It’s the problem few wish to talk about: If you are without housing and without access to a public toilet, what do you do if you have to pee or poo?

The town has decided to answer that question by installing three port-a-potties around the downtown area. Two are in town parking lots — Preston and High-Grove — while the other is at the rear of the town common.

Speaking at a July 9 meeting of the Selectboard, Town Manager Peter Elwell said that while the public has access to toilets at the Transportation Center, the Gibson-Aiken Center, the Municipal Center, and Brooks Memorial Library, people can do so only during the daytime hours. Private businesses downtown usually limit rest-room access to patrons.

“During the late evening and during the overnight hours, there are no sanitary facilities for people who are experiencing homelessness or for others who need a toilet,” Elwell said.

“The town employees and others who are maintaining these spaces have found, particularly this summer, significant amounts of human waste in public spaces in the town,” Elwell added. “So we view this as an urgent community need — not just as a matter of public dignity, but as a matter of public health.”

According to Elwell, it will cost the town about $1,000 a month to rent and maintain the port-a-potties, which will be emptied at least twice a week.

Groundworks Collaborative will be responsible for keeping them clean during the day and stocking them with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The town will buy those supplies, Elwell said.

Elwell said there will also be a sharps container in each of the units for safe disposal of used hypodermic needles.

He said that, eventually, the town might install permanent public toilets — something that is common in Europe and becoming more common in large U.S. cities.

But, for now, he said, “the town will use what is available and affordable.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #520 (Wednesday, July 24, 2019). This story appeared on page A1.

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