Just Look At These Fancy Port-A-Potties : The Two-Way San Francisco has added a new set of portable bathrooms to its public toilet program. No, wait! Don't go! These are cool toilets!
NPR logo Just Look At These Fancy Port-A-Potties

Just Look At These Fancy Port-A-Potties

The portable toilets in San Francisco's Pit Stop fleet are all staffed by paid attendants during their hours of operation and cleaned frequently. Most of them, however, don't look like the city's famous "Painted Lady" Victorian houses. Courtesy San Francisco Public Works hide caption

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Courtesy San Francisco Public Works

The portable toilets in San Francisco's Pit Stop fleet are all staffed by paid attendants during their hours of operation and cleaned frequently. Most of them, however, don't look like the city's famous "Painted Lady" Victorian houses.

Courtesy San Francisco Public Works

Brand-new. Custom-made. Solar-powered. Brightly colored. Classic Victorian design. Location, location, location — conveniently situated in downtown San Francisco.

We're referring, of course, to the latest addition to the city's fleet of public toilets.

San Francisco rolled out its new "Painted Lady" toilet model this week. And we mean literally rolled out — the toilet is part of the city's Pit Stop fleet of mobile, fully staffed public toilet facilities.

Honestly, we're sharing this story because the news has been draining lately — a lot of us are wiped out. A brightly colored, high-tech port-a-potty that apes an ornately embellished house? We couldn't hold in our delight.

But these fancified loos are also part of a serious story about public health and human dignity.

The toilets are brand new, custom-made, solar-powered and brightly colored and have a Victorian-inspired design. Courtesy of San Francisco Public Works hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of San Francisco Public Works

The toilets are brand new, custom-made, solar-powered and brightly colored and have a Victorian-inspired design.

Courtesy of San Francisco Public Works

The Pit Stop program delivers clean, portable toilets to serve San Francisco's large homeless population. That helps keep human feces and urine off of public streets, as The Los Angeles Times reported two years ago.

They also help bring dignity and privacy to the homeless population. Many businesses in dense areas of San Francisco don't offer public toilet access, and self-cleaning toilets around the city "break often and double as dens for drug use and prostitution," the Times said in 2015.

The portable toilets in the Pit Stop fleet are different. They're staffed by paid attendants during their hours of operation and cleaned frequently. (The toilets also serve as a used-needle disposal site and offer free dog waste bags.)

"It's private, it's clean, it has a sink, it has soap, it has seat covers, it has paper towels, it has a light," Mischa Fisher, a homeless woman, told the Times. The newspaper described her as gazing "with adoration" at a Pit Stop in the Tenderloin.

"It's wonderful," she said. "It's a blessing. It's the way I was raised."

The city first took the plunge and launched the Pit Stop pilot in 2014. Since then, the program has been on a roll — it expanded from three locations to 17. The city is flush with Pit stops now.

The Public Works department described the program as "successful," even when the privies were plain gray boxes instead of polychrome mini-homes. ("If you build it," wrote member station KQED, "they will go.")

So, if they were already sitting comfortably, why fancy the toilets up even more?

Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru says in a statement that the city is trying out "innovative designs that are inviting" to try to encourage more people to use the toilets.

Entrepreneur Nick Bovis, owner of Tiny Potties, collaborated with the city for the Painted Lady toilet design.

"If you give someone a little dignity, you can remove a little humiliation from their life," he said. "By creating a real-house bathroom and bringing it to people who don't have a home, you bring them a little dignity."

The Painted Lady toilets will be rotating among the various Pit Stop locations, the city says.

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