Rebecca Maitland Courtney is frustrated with her home town. She has a right to be.
After coming up with the idea for Arta Potties, artistically-decorated portable toilets that serve both the homeless and ordinary people, she's finding that other cities are giving her a lot more love than Salem.
I just spent an enjoyable hour talking with Courtney.
She's a caring, creative woman who can't understand why it is so difficult for people in Salem to come together and embrace a great idea: making restrooms a right for all in downtown, rather than a privilege for those who have the money needed to "buy" a place to urinate or defecate by frequenting a business with restrooms.
She told me, "People just don't want to look at homelessness. And they think that Arta Potties attract the homeless." Yet, she added, "They are already here."
Courtney's disappointing experience with placing Arta Potties in Salem echoes the Biblical adage, "No prophet is acceptable in her hometown."
Last night Oregon City had a wonderful celebration to mark the placing of two Arta Potties after the city's Police Department reached out to Courtney and asked her to help them figure out where to put the portable restrooms and what art to place on them.
The Oregon City Police Department will launch an Arta Potties pilot program to provide clean, safe, aesthetically appealing portable toilets.
On Wednesday, Sept. 27, two Arta Potties will be placed in downtown Oregon City to provide access to public restrooms 24 hours a day. Arta Potties is a community-organized project based in Salem.
According to a news release, OCPD is taking a proactive approach to concerns from the community and business owners regarding people relieving themselves outdoors on both public and private property.
"We also recognize the need for access to restrooms 24 hours a day, specifically for our homeless population who may not have access to restrooms otherwise," OCPD Capt. Shaun Davis said.
But here in Salem, Arta Potties have hit a brick wall of opposition after the first two were placed in the alley behind the Reed Opera House, where Courtney works as a manager, and the First Congregational United Church of Christ at Marion and Cottage.
Four (or maybe five, can't remember) additional Arta Potties are ready to go.
However, so far the City of Salem hasn't provided a place to put them on city-owned property, as Oregon City is doing. And no downtown businesses other than the Reed Opera House have given Courtney permission for an Arta Potty to be placed on their property.
So what's wrong with Salem?
Courtney told me that yesterday's Oregon City celebration of the placement of that town's first two public portable restrooms was "like a dream" for her. It involved about 20 homeless people, the Chief of Police, about 20 city staff, and Oregon City business owners.
Here's some photos of the Oregon City event that were posted on the Arta Potties Facebook page. The woman who's singing is homeless.
Meanwhile, here in Salem the powers-that-be at City Hall, along with downtown businesses, are giving a cold shoulder to the Arta Pottie movement. Now, to be fair, it appears that most of the City of Salem negativity happened during the Mayor Anna Peterson era.
I told Courtney that the current Mayor, Chuck Bennett, hopefully will be more supportive of her work. Also, there's been a considerable change in the make-up of the City Council, which now has a progressive majority. Courtney just is understandably semi-burnt-out after several years of having doors slammed in her face by City officials and downtown businesses.
So she's looking for more supporters. I certainly am one, after hearing her explain why Arta Potties are needed so badly.
The homeless aren't going to leave Salem if they can't use an Arta Pottie. They'll simply do what they've been doing, which is what anyone would do if you need to go to the bathroom and there's no bathroom to go to: urinate or defecate outside. This raises health issues, along with indecent exposure issues.
Again, in Oregon City the Police Department took the lead in bringing Arta Potties to town. That hasn't happened yet in Salem. I urged Courtney not to give up on the City of Salem, especially since both Mayor Bennett and most of the city councilors want to address the problems of homeless people in our town in a big way.
This is an opportunity for Salem to live up to the "Collaboration Capital" nickname that Anna Peterson liked to use during her terms as Mayor, but which has been more of a dream than a reality.
Currently Oregon City is kicking our butt in that regard.
Let's make this temporary. The City of Salem has promised that Arta Potties will get $4,000 if seven Arta Potties can be placed (in the downtown area, I assume). Courtney has the Arta Potties. What she needs are places to put them.
[Update: Courtney has clarified that the $4,000 from the City would sponsor two Arta Potties for a year each. Her goal has been to place seven.]
Public property is the first choice. Churches are a second choice.
There's no reason why Salem can't step up to the Arta Pottie plate and hit a home run. The beneficiaries aren't only the homeless. It is everybody who needs to go to the bathroom and doesn't have the ability, or cash, to zip into a coffeehouse, restaurant, or wherever and use a restroom there.
It also is everybody who wants to keep Salem's streets and alleys free of human waste. Courtney told me stories of stepping over homeless people who sleep in their own urine or bowel movements.
Geez, what kind of a town are we if we allow this to happen, rather than supporting Rebecca Maitland Courtney in her volunteer efforts to make access to a portable public restroom a right for everybody in the downtown area, especially the homeless?