Rantz: Shh! You’re not supposed to admit Seattle is getting bathrooms for homeless

Apr 18, 2024, 5:58 PM

homeless bathrooms...

Site of upcoming University District public restrooms (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) plans to install “public” bathrooms in Seattle, but we’re not supposed to acknowledge these are for the homeless. Reporters seem to think we need to fool people into demanding funding for it. So, shh!

The Seattle Times reported that LIHI hopes to include “street-facing public restrooms” in a new apartment complex in the University District. This won’t be a reality for years because of their construction plans and timeline. The newspaper downplayed that it’s a taxpayer-supported, affordable housing complex that also includes an Urban Rest Stop for the homeless to use for showers and laundry. These details are treated as asides.

To help gin up support, The Seattle Times is implying (at best) or tricking you (at worst) that you’ll have access to them. Why not just be upfront?

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Shh! Don’t mention the Seattle bathrooms are for the homeless

The Seattle Times is especially excited about the news, treating this as a press release rather than a report (actually, the entire story is based on a press release). KIRO 7, which also covered the news, offered the bare minimum in details, rightly treating it like a standard news item.

KIRO 7 framed the location as near the light rail station, also implying it’ll be used by the general public. It’s actually two blocks away and likely wouldn’t be frequented by commuters. This station is used primarily by people who either live or work nearby, so they’d use their home or office bathroom unless there’s a rare toilet emergency.

The Seattle Times piece lays it on thick. The paper declared that this story “matters because the densifying U-District is one of many Seattle neighborhoods where safe and convenient restrooms are scarce.” (There’s actually a public bathroom about five or six blocks away from the would-be location of the new bathrooms.)

“People who live, work and pass through Seattle’s busy University District may at last get access to public restrooms near light rail,” reporters Daniel Beekman and Anna Patrick proclaimed.


Why can’t they just be honest about the intent?

Do Seattle residents really need to be played here? Wouldn’t they enthusiastically welcome more resources for low-income residents and the homeless? I think so. Then, why are we being sold something we’re not going to get? The coverage feels manipulative. Just call it bathrooms for the homeless.

The biggest concern is that the bathrooms will be used for drug use by the homeless. And they will be. But Seattle voters haven’t been particularly vocal on public bathrooms being used for drugs, or most of them would be closed already. Plus, the U-District is comprised of young progressives who only briefly complain when the policies they support lead to shootings. They don’t say much about how homelessness was worsened by their activism and complacency.

The coverage, then, is a needless bait-and-switch. But it does make me suspicious of something that wouldn’t otherwise register as noteworthy. It’s neither innovative nor exciting — some toilets and cheap housing. But perhaps it’s being oversold because the reporters and editors pumping up this story don’t think it’ll actually live up to expectations, like being clean and safe. And they probably realize we’ll end up paying for them.

“If you have a restroom that’s well lit, fast and clean, people will use it,” LIHI director Sharon Lee said on a press call. “We think we’re providing a public health service.”

If you think this restroom will be any of these things, there’s no helping you.

No, they won’t likely be clean or safe

The bathrooms will obviously not be clean.

Who are these people fooling? Have they ever used a public bathroom? Businesses struggle to keep bathrooms clean.

Are we to pretend that the homeless are all incredibly respectful and considerate? That the bathrooms will be treated well? Oh yes, our homeless encampments are known for being pristine campgrounds. After all, some reporters call the homeless “urban campers,” as if romanticizing living outdoors is helpful. People are generally slobs, homeless or not, so there’s no need to oversell this.

There’s not even a plan to keep the bathrooms clean. LIHI admitted it does not know how the bathrooms will be staffed. In fact, they don’t even know how they’ll be funded. I’m sure hyping up public bathrooms that we’re pretending most people need isn’t a way to soften the blow when it inevitably becomes the responsibility of taxpayers to fund. And they’re not cheap. The so-called “Portland Loo” single-stall bathrooms cost $550,000 just to install.

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Trusting LIHI is like assuming these bathrooms for homeless will be clean: Foolish

I don’t trust LIHI, while other reporters seem to. Perhaps that’s the red flag here.

LIHI is a group with a budget that seems to keep growing, despite failing to tackle the homelessness crisis. They’re the epitome of what people mean when they criticize the “homeless industrial complex.” How can a group constantly get funding when they’re supposed to tackle homelessness while it gets worse?

Lee, according to ProPublica, was paid a $308,766 salary in 2022. And if the funding keeps coming in despite failures, where’s the incentive to address the underlying causes of homelessness? LIHI also runs “supportive housing units” in the region. The entire model for long-term or permanent supportive housing ensures the homeless don’t have to address the underlying causes of their homelessness until they’re ready. In other words, they’ll always live in the subsidized housing, which guarantees the people who run them have funding in perpetuity.

Public bathrooms can be a good idea. But let’s just admit who they’re meant to serve so we can both set expectations and help keep those responsible accountable for providing the attention the bathrooms will need.

Listen to The Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-7 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

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Rantz: Shh! You’re not supposed to admit Seattle is getting bathrooms for homeless