By Vickie Aldous
for the Mail Tribune
A portable toilet that was installed last year on a trial basis to help homeless people will remain downtown indefinitely.
Ashland City Councilors voted earlier this week to keep the portable toilet in place. It’s located near the Calle Guanajuato and the Ashland Community Development Department building on Winburn Way, not far from the entrance to Lithia Park.
With Ashland’s public restrooms closing as early as 4 p.m., homeless people had few bathroom options at night, resulting in public urination and defecation.
Last year, councilors approved a one-year trial period for the downtown portable toilet.
Since then, the toilet has experienced moderate use and some episodes of vandalism, including graffiti, burn marks and a key broken off in a toilet paper holder, according to a report from Grants Pass-based D-n-D Porta Potty, which rents the toilet to the city of Ashland and services it.
The annual cost for the toilet is about $1,800, according to the city.
That’s less than the estimated $8,000 cost of leaving a public restroom open all night and paying for added custodial work and vandalism repairs.
Public restrooms that are open during the day already suffer from extensive vandalism, said Ashland Parks and Recreation Department Director Don Robertson.
Keeping a public restroom open at night also could endanger innocent users because someone with criminal intentions could lurk inside. There’s nowhere to hide inside a portable toilet, Robertson said.
A person could also take up residence overnight in a public restroom, he said.
Councilors noted that the parks department has portable toilets set up for its winter ice rink on Winburn Way across from Lithia Park, but they didn’t want to steer people who aren’t using the rink to those toilets.
The rink portable toilets are often open until 9 and 10 p.m., depending on the activities scheduled there each night, parks employees said.
Councilor Dennis Slattery said the downtown portable toilet is needed.
“I would like people who use it to be more respectful,” he added.
Homeless advocate Keith Haxton said homeless people need the toilet and continue to relieve themselves outside in other parts of town.
He said many people use the toilet, including people leaving bars late at night.
Although the portable toilet will remain in place, some councilors expressed misgivings about its appearance and the fact that it has now become an essentially permanent fixture downtown.
Councilor Mike Morris said he would like to consider modifying an existing public restroom so it could remain open overnight but be safer.
The portable toilet is located next to an existing public restroom that is locked at night.
Councilor Russ Silbiger said the city is not complying with its own planning rules by allowing a portable toilet to remain on a site for so long.
Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.