New public restroom opens in Downtown Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — A new public restroom popped up in Downtown Pittsburgh near Gateway Center. Some believe it’s a solution. Others believe it will create new problems.

“This Port-A-John is bullcrap,” said Steven Hofstetter. “I don’t like it. They took my spot where I sleep n’at.”

Steven Hofstetter has been homeless since 2016. He carries toilet paper and bags around with him.

“I caught a guy, around 5:30 this morning, right over here by the restaurant,” said Hofstetter. “I made him clean it up. It’s disgusting. They’re making a bad name for the rest of the homeless people.”

It’s been an ongoing problem in Downtown Pittsburgh, which is where this Pittsburgh Potty comes in as a potential solution.

“I think it’s overall a good idea,” said Wendy Stetten.

“It’s great to me,” said Helana Jackson. “I’m glad that this is actually here. Like it caught my eye walking past.”

At this time, it’s part of a test program to see if they should be made a permanent thing throughout the city. On Thursday afternoon, District Attorney Stephen Zappala talked about the state of Downtown Pittsburgh.

“If you walk downtown it smells like urine,” said Zappala. “It’s open bathrooms everywhere. Come on man. This is our living room for Western Pennsylvania and the whole world.”

Here’s what he had to say when Channel 11′s Alyssa Raymond asked him about this new public restroom.

“As soon as there’s an assault or some type of crime committed there then everyone will probably rethink that process,” said Zappala.

Some also pointed out it could be used as a spot for even more drug activity. But they’re hoping with members of the Clean Team monitoring it, this won’t become a new problem and will instead become a solution.

“There’s already homeless people and alcoholics that hang down here so now that there’s a bathroom down here that gives them legal grounds to be down there because their excuse to the police is, ‘I’m using the bathroom,’” said Anthony Wilson.

“I’ve dealt with homelessness for a while, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t have to deal with that, but I know people who are still dealing with that,” said Helana Jackson. “I know friends who are dealing with that personally, and it’s hard. If I had a friend down here right now she would be ecstatic to see something like this. It’s great to me. I’m glad this is actually here.”

The new public restroom near the Gateway T Station is expected to open this weekend. Once it opens, it will be operational from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. every day. Two more are expected to go up around the city, including one on Smithfield Street next week.

“I think it’s a great idea because since the pandemic happened, because a lot of stores have been cutting off public restrooms, I’ve seen the heartache of it,” said Jackson. “I have seen a lot of homeless people struggle to try to use restrooms in these places where they thought they could but they can’t anymore.”

“It’s the worst idea ever,” said Wilson.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development raised $2 million for this initiative, and provided the following statement to Channel 11:

“The corporate and philanthropic sectors have made a commitment of at least $2 million to support several near-term projects to address cleanliness and public safety in downtown, including the public restrooms pilot.”

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