Downtown Miami has a sanitation crisis. There’s a simple fix. Public toilets.
Of course, this being Miami, nothing’s simple.
Last week, the Downtown Development Authority produced a map of downtown streets festooned with small brown emojis. Each was said to represent a deposit of human excrement discovered during an eight-hour survey. Each symbol features an inexplicable smile.
If Gloria Estefan had suddenly burst out with a cover of a Rick Ross rap, it would have hardly been more startling than a poop map coming from the DDA, a booster outfit given to hyping only the sunniest aspects of Miami.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Yet this map, first reported by my colleague David Smiley (I hesitate at using the term “scoop”) may have been the DDA’s single greatest publicity coup. First local news sites, then national media outlets like CNN, New York Daily News, Huffington Post and the Washington Post featured the DDA’s illustration of where you might not want to walk in downtown Miami.
But the problem is hardly peculiar to Miami. Nearly every major city with homeless populations living on its streets — which is to say every major city — wrestles with the subsidiary problem of human waste. In 2013, San Francisco unveiled its own human waste map.
Urban merchants and residents rail, with disgust, about being forced to clean up human feces near their doorways. Online forums collect thousands of suggestions about the problem. (Apparently a small industry has grown up installing motion detector-triggered sprinklers or spotlights.)
But the obvious answer’s public toilets. The DDA map was a ploy meant to pressure the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, with all its millions, to fund the installation of public toilets on downtown sidewalks.
Other cities have discovered that not just any design works. Make them too roomy, as San Francisco discovered a few years ago, and cities find that they’ve created miniature crack dens or hooker stations. The city of Portland, known for cutting edge technology, might have come up with the answer: the Portland Loo, a patented solar-powered toilet made of prison-grade steel. They cost $90,000 each. Several cities, including San Diego, with a homeless problem similar to Miami, have put in orders.
Miami-Dade residents might reasonably expect that their 1 percent restaurant meal tax for the homeless trust would fund a few Portland Loos and provide transients a place to go and make the streets and sidewalks less dreadful.
But in Miami, nothing’s simple. Super lobbyist Ron Book, someone with outsized political influence, runs the Homeless Trust and he refuses to fund anything but macro solutions to homelessness, such as longterm housing. Street toilets aren’t macro.
Downtown interests, led by Miami Commissioner and DDA Chairman Marc Sarnoff, want a little micro money. They demand trust money for the toilets.
Sarnoff also supports the Camillus House program to provide sleeping mats for the homeless — another micro solution disdained by Book.
Oh yeah, Book and Sarnoff don’t much like each other. You might say that their feud has put Miami on the map.