City of ABQ, UNM partner to make restrooms more accessible for homeless

March 12, 2019 - Allison Martinez

City of ABQ, UNM partner to make restrooms more accessible for homeless

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - It's a stinky problem and a health hazard: homeless people going to the bathroom outside.

It's a known problem in the city of Albuquerque.

"Homelessness does impact our libraries, as well as our parks and rec, as well as our family and community services," said Gilbert Ramirez, City of Albuquerque Deputy Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness.

At nearly every park, people see not only carts and trash building up, but fecal matter as there aren't enough accessible public restrooms. It's a problem that the city and the University of New Mexico have come together to solve. 

This spring, UNM launched a course for graduate students that would do just that.

"By proposing this as a graduate-level course, it helps to bring some of our most innovative young thinkers to help us work through this challenging complex and then give recommendations to the city as to what might come as a result of this," Ramirez explained.

The class has worked side by side with the city for the last several weeks creating and tweaking ideas. The collaborative team first tried putting porta-potties at Coronado Park, but that idea quickly went down the drain.

"Unfortunately what we learned is that they became a biohazard very quickly," Ramirez said.

The professors teaching the course say they initially had 140 ideas, but have since narrowed it down to seven.

"One that is particularly compelling and in a way simple is toilets, or public facilities, as art pieces," said Michaele Pride, UNM School of Architecture and Planning professor.

Other ideas include playground restrooms, pop up toilets and roll up toilets.

Options for the city to consider will be presented at UNM's George Pearl Hall on March 18 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

It's still not clear how the project would be funded, or when it might start.