Manchester removes portable toilets from downtown park

  • ‘Safety concerns’ led to removal of these portable toilets from Veterans Park. Carol Robidoux / Manchester Ink Link

Manchester Ink Link
Published: 5/29/2021 12:00:13 PM

Two portable public toilets that have been stationed downtown on the perimeter of Veterans Park are gone. They were removed Thursday, according to Parks and Recreation Director Mark Gomez. He said the decision was made by Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg, citing safety concerns.

The portables were installed in 2019 after the mayor and board of aldermen voted to give them a try on a temporary basis, a remedy for an ongoing issue of a lack of access to the public bathrooms located inside the visitor’s center.

Those bathrooms were closed to the public about 10 years ago due to continuous vandalism and lack of funding for an attendant to oversee or clean the bathrooms.

In 2017, Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard described the reasons for closing the visitor center bathrooms.

“We have found that when the restrooms were open, without a park attendant, the facility became a hangout for folks to use as a washroom and an area to use illegal substances. This, in turn, would frighten some of the volunteers staffing the information area and/or other people that may want to utilize the facility,” Sheppard said.

The portables were a short-term solution to a greater problem, which was the cost of upgrading the visitor center facilities, in need of costly repairs. Since then, a police substation has been added to the visitor’s center, and the portable toilets mainly serve the marginalized homeless – those who live outside rather than in designated shelters.

But there are other things that have changed – COVID-19 caused a reduction in the number of shelter beds in order to comply with state-mandated social distancing, and in the past year the city’s homeless population has surged – so much so that even at capacity, there wouldn’t be enough beds them to go around. And then there is the lack of transitional and affordable housing, which keeps people in shelters much longer than they should be.

Safety Concerns

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long confirmed Thursday that the potties had been removed due to ongoing safety concerns.

A review of this week’s police call logs indicates there were 25 calls for service at Veterans Park between May 21 and 27, ranging from “check condition” and “fight” to theft, unwanted subject, hot spot patrol and 15 “special attention” calls.

While none of the calls directly involve the toilets, it’s all related.

“One of the safety concerns is we need a police detail there 24/7 to make sure nobody’s overdosing. I drove by there yesterday when EMTs were there to attend to someone. And while I can’t specify what the safety concerns are that led Chief Aldenberg to the decision to remove them, it’s a lot of things,” Long said.

He and other aldermen have expressed concerns about quality of life issues, including safety and crime.

“Unfortunately we do something humanely, like put in bathrooms for the homeless, and unfortunately it attracts an element of the homeless that create problems.  It’s not all the homeless, but just like any other faction of the population that has a bad element, so do the homeless. And they are giving all the homeless a bad rap,” he said.

The park has become a gathering place for what he figures are “the 10 percent” of the homeless who have their reasons for not wanting to go to a shelter, Long said.

“They end up having fights among one another, territorial stuff, or selling drugs or shooting up in the bathrooms and then falling on the ground.  This is what creates an added burden to the city, when we’re trying to do the right thing by providing services,” Long said.

All of that creates an unsavory environment at a park dedicated to veterans, particularly as Memorial Day weekend approaches. It’s not fair to the city at large, said Long.

“I think there’s an intention of having a service there on Monday, so you’re going to have people going down there to commemorate our veterans and they have to go through this? The ones causing the problems are those who don’t want anyone telling them what to do,” Long says. “I get that, believe me. But this can’t go on as it is.”

What brought Long to the park on Wednesday was to find out more from parks and recreation personnel about the bathroom situation.

“I was told the firm hired to clean them hasn’t been consistent, but when you think about what it is they’re dealing with, it’s not just human waste – likely there is hazardous waste being tossed in those bathrooms, and that’s not what they signed up for, so I can understand that,” Long said.

Although he was initially a proponent of portable toilets, he’s since shifted his thinking to a larger solution. He says he’s reminded of something he learned from former Police Chief David Mara, when there was a movement to remove benches from the park to keep the homeless from sleeping on them.

“He was adamantly against removing them. He said to me that you should never legislate on changing something because of what the homeless are doing that you don’t like; they’re the ones that need to change,” Long said. “It’s up to us to come up with a plan to make sure everyone has a shot at a better life.”

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