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Occupy Wall Street Gets Porta-Potties

By Julie Shapiro | November 4, 2011 5:27pm | Updated on November 4, 2011 6:52pm
Portable toilets were installed near Occupy Wall Street Nov. 4, 2011.
Portable toilets were installed near Occupy Wall Street Nov. 4, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

LOWER MANHATTAN — Downtown is finally getting some relief...from Occupy Wall Street protesters relieving themselves.

Demonstrators installed a set of portable toilets near their Lower Manhattan encampment Friday  after residents complained about protesters urinating and defecating in the streets.

The movement, which is flush with cash, has put three portable bathrooms for protesters on a loading dock at 52 Broadway, the United Federation of Teachers' headquarters, a few blocks south of Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street and Downtown's elected officials announced Friday afternoon.

The bathrooms will be accessible 24 hours-a-day, with a trained security guard on site, according to Han Shan, a spokesman for the protesters.

"This should be a great help to occupiers who until now, due partly to the city's refusal to grant permits allowing portable toilets in public spaces near the park, have had no overnight access to toilets," Shan said in an e-mail.

"Of course, lack of access to sanitation facilities has been a problem for the neighborhood for a long time before the occupation began, as millions of visitors to the 9/11 Memorial puts a great strain on local businesses' bathrooms, and the surrounding neighborhood."

It was not immediately clear how much the facilities cost, but Shan said the johns and security were provided by an anonymous donor.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he was glad the union could provide space for the commodes.

"We listened to the concerns of the Downtown community, and we are happy to help Occupy Wall Street to continue to be a good neighbor," Mulgrew said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Councilwoman Margaret Chin released a statement Friday afternoon praising Occupy Wall Street for installing the bathrooms.

"We are pleased that, on the heels of the city responding to our calls to remove excessive barricades, there has been significant progress on one of the other pressing quality-of-life issues: improved bathroom access," the elected officials said in the statement.

The officials also called on the city to take a zero-tolerance approach in addressing quality-of-life issues, including public urination and noisy drumming, which have disturbed residents and business owners around Zuccotti Park for the past seven weeks.

“It’s great that the UFT has stepped up," a spokeswoman for Councilwoman Chin said, adding that the UFT had also been providing protesters access to its bathrooms during business hours.

"I think we should recognize the move that’s being made in the hopes that it will continue in this direction and we’ll see more of this responsiveness from Occupy Wall Street and its supports to community concerns," the Chin spokeswoman said.

Occupy Wall Street is passing out flyers to protesters to tell them about the new bathrooms, the group said on its website Friday.

Some demonstrators were bursting with joy at the sight of the new portable toilets.

"The city would like to paint the occupiers as peeing in the streets while not allowing us a permit for Porta-Potties," said Saum Eshandani, 27, a Brooklyn resident who volunteers daily Zuccotti Park.

"It's so close to the park — this is the perfect spot,"

But Colin Laws, 19, who has been living in Zuccotti Park for a month, said the allure of a warm place in the winter might cause some problems.

"I hope people don't start to fall asleep in them," said Laws, who has been using local delis and restaurants for bathrooms.

He said the Occupy Wall Street sanitation committee has been cleaning the more popular bathroom spots like McDonald's on a regular basis.

Ro Sheffe, chairman of Community Board 1's Financial District Committee, who has been involved negotiations between residents and Occupy Wall Street, had mixed feelings about the arrival of portable toilets.

"For sanitation purposes, it's a good idea," Sheffe said. "However, I'm very concerned that it sends a signal that further legitimizes this occupation…. Anything that makes the occupation more permanent or assists them in any way is not seen as a good thing by many people."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said earlier Friday that addressing health issues including public urination was one of his top concerns.

"We’re not going to tolerate some of the things that have gone on. And we’re doing something about that," the mayor said during his weekly radio sit-down with WOR’s John Gambling Friday, adding that officials were focusing on complaints about public urination.

"We’re trying to address the cases where people go off into an alley to relieve themselves. We’re not going to tolerate that," he said.

The mayor also continued his attacks against the protesters, accusing some of "trying to destroy the neighborhood" and hinted that the city would be taking an increasingly firm stance against law breaking.

"Anybody that thinks that we’re going to tolerate behavior that’s not protected is wrong," he said.

Jill Colvin and Ben Fractenberg contributed reporting.