Portland Red Portable Toilets

Like the rest of Portland, Montavilla received red portable toilets this winter. Portland City officials designated their placement on sidewalks and curbside parking spaces. These distinctively red portable toilets are part of a city-wide effort to handle public sanitation issues. Although this current round of public restrooms is COVID-19 related, Portland has a history of trying to address toilet availability.

September of this year, the City of Portland identified the lack of toilets for our unhoused population as a critical issue. With COVID-19 and the related economic impacts, Portland is facing expanding public sanitation concerns. COVID-19 has closed or reduced capacity at traditional shelter locations and the economic downturn is inflating the number of unsheltered citizens in our area.

Despite the program’s goal to provide unhoused people with access to clean toilets, placement occurs outside active camps. Sometimes located in areas without a camp in sight. According to a Portland press release regarding the portable toilets, “locations are selected using real-time data about homeless encampments, interviews with people living in encampments, input from City staff, an audit of existing bathroom access and an assessment of human waste in the area.”

Placement of these temporary public restrooms does not always seem obvious. However, the city believes these red toilets will improve neighborhood livability and make a difficult situation more tolerable. Units provided by the city are visible on a city maintained map. Some residents have voiced concern over these sanitation units’ placement, particularly when near homes and away from known camps.

Admittedly this is a short-term solution. Portland is only leasing these units, and the long-term commitment to the program is unknown. Currently, Montavilla only has four red toilets, and all are near I-205.

  • SE Division near I-205 Multi-use Path
  • SE 89th and Main
  • SE 94th and Stark
  • NE 94th and Glisan

No matter the length of the sanitation program, there is a possibility that data from the red portable toilet program could influence an expanded deployment of Portland Loos in the city. Starting in 2008, Portland began deploying rugged public toilets to reduce human waste on the streets. Developed through the cooperation of City agencies and Madden Fabrication, the Portland Loo’s design provides universally accessible bathrooms with a minimized potential for misuse. There are 22 in the city, with the closest one located inside Ventura Park at 460 SE 113th Ave. Each unit’s cost is prohibitive to mass deployment, but they offer a long-term solution with a pleasing outward appearance.

Although the sight of red portable toilets along the road can be unsightly, the alternative to not having facilities available is worse for the community. Portland will likely extend this program past the COVID-19 emergency, as a version of this program was already underway before the pandemic. Having Public restrooms has been a mostly positive influence for other parts of Portland. For Montavilla, this too could be an enhancement to our area and keep our streets a little cleaner.