LOWER EAST SIDE — For more than two decades, those who live and work around Sara. D Roosevelt Park have been begging the city’s Parks Department for adequate public restrooms — but little progress has been made, according to advocates of the green space, and the lack of facilities is taking its toll.
The Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition since 1994 has been championing efforts to have the city reactivate a Parks Department building on Stanton Street — beginning with the unused restrooms — that has sat as an otherwise derelict storage facility since the 1980s.
And the coalition’s president has seen firsthand the area’s dire need for restrooms — she has even cleaned up human feces in the park, she says, where the homeless population is left with no alternative.
“We have put people in a pretty messed up position which pits them against the neighborhood, and I don’t think that’s right,” said Kay Webster, who in 2013 penned an opinion piece for the Lo-Down outlining the importance of the building to the community.
“It’s been a very long time,” she continued. “We definitely need that building.”
And it’s not just the neighborhood’s homeless who suffer from the lack of facilities. Jennifer Marcus, who helps maintain the park’s M’Finda Kalunga Garden, says she and her fellow gardeners often go searching for nearby coffee shops, or else go to the Whole Foods on E. Houston Street, where they are asked to buy something in order to use the restroom.
“There is no bathroom anywhere,” she said. “People are always coming and asking — people with kids, tourists from everywhere — and there are no facilities for the kids playing basketball and soccer.”
While the restrooms at the nearby BRC Senior Services Center are available to gardeners on the weekdays, the center is closed on the weekend, said Marcus, and is not open to other users of the park.
The park, which spans over half a mile from E. Houston Street to Canal Street, currently has one available public restroom on Hester Street, which is open daily, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m — the facility sits near the southern end of the sprawling park, leaving a void on the northern end, said Webster.
A facility on Broome Street is in need of major reconstruction due to a sewage issue, according to a Parks Department representative. The Lo-Down last year reported on an incident in which a department worker was hospitalized, reportedly due to fecal fumes, after someone had jammed a hoodie into a toilet when the building was left open overnight.
Work on the Broome Street building is expected to kick off by the end of the year, according to the rep.
Meanwhile, the limited hours of the Hester Street building fail to serve the homeless community, and in turn fail to serve the surrounding community, Webster said.
The solution, Webster said, is to reactive the Stanton Street building, to have at least one facility open 24 hours a day, and to hire staff members paid to supervise the facilities in order to prevent misuse.
After years of fighting for adequate facilities, the Parks Department is moving toward making at least some of the suggested upgrades a reality. The staff bathroom in the Stanton Street storehouse will be converted into public bathrooms, thanks to a collective $1 million donation from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin — the renovation is currently in the design phase, according to a parks rep.
Still, the department has been unable to estimate a timeline for the project, according to a representative for Chin’s office. And from Webster’s perspective, having fought for the conversion for years, the conversion is inching along at a painstaking pace.
Meanwhile, the department remains unmoved in the face of locals’ demands to return the rest of the Stanton House building to community use as a youth center — a demand that remains among the park coalition’s goals, and has been staunchly supported by Community Board 3, according to board chair Gigi Li — arguing the department needs the space for storage.
The coalition has suggested an alternative storage site under the Williamsburg Bridge, said Webster, which she says has been discussed with Parks Department reps at monthly coalition meetings. A rep for the department, however, said it is not in conversation about moving the storage.
“I’ve tried to be diplomatic and work with parks,” said Webster. “I don’t know what it’s going to take.”