Parks and Recreation addressing public health concerns regarding portable toilets

Parks and Recreation addressing public health concerns regarding portable toilets
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 4:14 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2023 at 4:21 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Public health is a concern at large homeless encampments, and Anchorage Parks and Recreation is taking steps to make sure the large encampments are fully equipped with the resources they need to maintain a clean and safe environment.

More money is needed — that’s what Parks and Recreation director Mike Braniff told the assembly before they approved additional funding for the maintenance of portable toilets at large encampments.

Braniff said the three largest encampments — located at Third and Ingra, Davis Park, and Cuddy Park — are bigger than ones his department has dealt with in the past.

“That’s why we need additional resources,” Braniff said.

According to Braniff, part of the problem is the portable toilets at large homeless camps have been attacked by vandals. Contractors have reported to Parks and Recreation that 16 or 17 toilets have burned down this summer, which he says is unusually high.

“I think in an ordinary summer around town in the 80 or 90 parks that we have, maybe half a dozen porta-potties burned down,” Braniff said.

Additionally he said he thinks its a “challenge” for the contractor to keep them clean when issues like toilet paper dispensers are broken off and they can’t replace the toilet paper because they don’t have the dispenser intact any longer.

The other problem is the condition of the portable toilets. One homeless camper at Third and Ingra described them as “disgusting”.

To address the issue, the assembly approved Braniff’s request for additional funding to cover the increased cost of servicing and replacing portable units. The assembly increased Parks and Recreation’s contract with Rent-a-Can Toilet Company Inc. by $160,000 for increased servicing and replacing of portables around Anchorage related to the homeless population.

Braniff said there are roughly 188 tents and several vehicles parked at the homeless encampment at Third and Ingra — but less than ten portable bathrooms.

“The difference is ordinary park usage necessitates cleaning once a week or three times a week. These porta-potties we’ve requested be cleaned twice a day,” Braniff said. “they receive a lot of usage because there’s a high population here and yeah, it’s a challenge for the contractor.”

Braniff also mentioned that large encampments like that at Third and Ingra are seeing an increased police presence to address things like vandalism. The police department received $100,000 in additional funding from the assembly to cover the cost.

“That’s going to pay for officers and a sergeant. That’s going to be a full time detail, and on the days that that full time detail is not available, we have an additional overtime detail. So we have seven day coverage to have an officer presence,” APD deputy chief Sean Case said.

The additional funding is just a short term solution. At a recent meeting, Housing and Homelessness Coordinator Alexis Johnson said the city is exploring the possibility of large encampments like Third and Ingra being completely closed by Oct. 26, when the municipality’s emergency cold weather shelter plan is activated.