Back in 2015, providing artistically decorated Arta Potties (portable toilets) in downtown Salem was a brilliant idea of Rebecca Maitland Courtney and other women who wanted to give homeless people a place to go, rather than defecating and urinating in public places.
First Arta Potty (photo courtesy of the Arta Potties Facebook page)
But the folks at City Hall, including the Mayor and City Manager, never supported Arta Potties in any meaningful way, apparently figuring that putting them downtown would encourage the homeless to congregate in central Salem.
Well, guess what?
Five years later, there are more homeless people sleeping downtown than ever, and now City officials are having to clean the sidewalks in front of the Nordstrom mall and other locations because of human waste. Here's how the Salem Reporter story starts out.
The city of Salem plans to close and clean parts of downtown on Thursday and Friday where homeless residents have slept since a citywide camping ban started last month.
Cleanups will occur Thursday along Center Street, the city of Salem said in a press release Wednesday afternoon. On Friday, crews will clean parts of Liberty Street.
According to the city, people have complained it's hard to pass along the sidewalk and that the area has become unsanitary. Kristin Retherford, urban development director, said fecal matter, urine and syringes have all been found in the area.
In 2017 I sat down with Courtney and learned about her frustrations with how the City of Salem treated Arta Potties. I wrote about our conversation in "Arta Potties SOS! Why isn't Salem embracing public portable restrooms?"
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.
Thus Salem had a chance to do something creative, artistic, and compassionate to help homeless people, then rejected Arta Potties, and now is trying to figure out how to clean up the urine and feces that wouldn't be on downtown sidewalks if portable toilets had been embraced by city officials years ago.
Here's part of what Rebecca Maitland Courtney shared with me today.
One Arta Potty remains in Salem at the Congregational Church. So many rumors..politics etc... I just wanted the world to know that they worked successfully in Salem for 3 years. It wasn't a bust. It worked! There was too little, too late from the city. I continue to consult [with] other cities.
Tim King, among others, has been reminding us of this City Hall screw-up via Facebook posts. King was an early advocate for Arta Potties and made a documentary that I'll share below, along with other videos about the Arta Potties project. Here's a screenshot of what King said.
This is a December 2015 KOIN News story about Arta Potties.
This is a song in praise of Arta Potties by a homeless man.
And this is Tim King's documentary about Arta Potties.