July 14, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Eugene can’t open public restrooms under our current social conditions

3 min read
Another tragedy of the commons: Jefferson Westside volunteers give up trying to open public restrooms in Monroe Park, after eight years of effort.

by Ted M. Coopman, Jefferson Westside Neighbors chair

Since the early 2000s, the flush toilets at Monroe Park were open only for events and closed at all other times due to criminal activity. Back in the day, drug dealing and prostitution were problems at the park. Closing the bathrooms, installing traffic diverters, and lowering the height of landscaping were done to address these problems.

Starting in 2016, neighbors advocated for reopening the bathrooms to deal with public defecation, to service the playground, and as a resource for the unhoused. Neighbors felt strongly about the humane need for public flush toilets and making the park welcoming to everyone. Through advocacy, the bathrooms were first reopened during the summer and later year-round.

The bathrooms were completely remodeled using park bond funds, with the work completed in March 2023. Since then, the bathrooms have been severely vandalized. Some homeless people figured out how to defeat the locks and use the bathrooms as party shacks after hours. Clothing clogged the toilets, syringes and trash littered the floor, and human waste was smeared on the walls. Expensive hazmat crews had to be called in weekly. The bathrooms were closed more often than they were open. In addition, some people claimed the bathrooms for themselves and used violence to keep out others. This activity spread to the picnic area and made the park unusable for other visitors.

In summer 2023, neighbors and volunteers met with Parks and Open Space staff and the Eugene Police Department to discuss what could be done to address problem users. The Friends of Monroe Park group provides almost 2,000 volunteer-hours a year, including daily trash patrol and regular graffiti cleanup, to help keep the park clean, green, and safe. Ongoing poor behavior issues undercut these efforts.

Bathroom vandalism costs thousands of dollars every week, money wasted on top of the funds used to refurbish the bathrooms. People who are unhoused who need access to toilets and running water are denied this resource as well as the families who take their kids to the playground. All this is due to the behaviors of a small number of people.

Eugene Parks is getting newer and better locks for the bathrooms and installing outdoor cameras. Parks staff and EPD have advocated for some time to revert the bathrooms back to being open only when they can be supervised. With the latest problems, staff originally had intended to close the toilets for a trial period in an effort to extinguish the destructive behaviors. However, since the bathrooms have been closed, problem activity has greatly decreased.

After initial resistance, neighbors and park volunteers came to the realization that under our current social conditions, open bathrooms at Monroe Park simply are unworkable—a sad end for years of effort to do the right thing. Neighbors can only do so much absent effective government intervention in dealing with our larger social challenges around crime and homelessness.

This article appears on page 6 of the February 2024 Jefferson Westside Neighbors newsletter and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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