A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Outhouse can stay, four councilors say

Written August 29th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

The portable toilet at the First Christian Church, photographed in March after it came to the city’s attention.

The First Christian Church in downtown Albany will be able to keep its outhouse for the homeless, but not without applying for a city permit.

The city council discussed this late into the night on Wednesday. In the end, there were four council members — the required number for any decision — in favor of leaving things alone. They will let the church apply for a one-year permit, renewable annually at infinitum under existing city code language, to keep the toilet in place. The council will act on the permit once the church applies for one.

But how? The city has never issued a permit for a portable toilet. They’ll have to come up with a permit form, Mayor Sharon Konopa said. The city manager said he’ll take care of it.

What about a fee for this permit? “Eleven million dollars!” somebody said. The council had just heard an estimate that the general fund will face an $11 million shortfall in the 2021-23 biennium. This was part of a prolonged discussion, which didn’t go anywhere and plowed no new ground, about ways to cut expenses and raise more money.

Last fall, with support from nearby United Prebysterian Church, First Christian Church installed the portable toilet to give homeless people a place to go and to prevent its preschool “from having to deal with excrement on the grounds.” Albany officials became aware early this year and said the portable toilet was not allowed. But they made no move to have it taken away, pending a report on how other cities dealt with similar issues. That report was presented Wednesday.

Then there was a brief debate, instigated by Public Information Officer Marilyn Smith, over whether the church outhouse, if permitted by the city, must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This went on until somebody pointed out that many of the public portable toilets at city parks and school district sports fields don’t meet that test.

If you want to watch the debate, you can check out the YouTube video of the meeting on cityofalbany.net under “city council meeting materials.”

In a statement to the council, the church’s elders said, in part: “As Christians we are charged with the wellbeing of our neighbors, particularly the most vulnerable: the least of these our brethren. With that charge in mind, when we discovered that our neighbors needed basic sanitation facilities, we put up the port-a-pot. … Our church also does our best to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and provide what comfort we can for the people who live hard lives on the street. Not to address these needs is to increase their degradation when it is within our power to improve their lives.”

In the end, Councilors Bessie Johnson, Alex Johnson II, Bill Coburn, and Dick Olsen took the side of letting the church keep the portable toilet, which sits outside the Washington Street side of its building. Councilors Rich Kellum and Mike Sykes, along with the mayor, fretted about a profileration of portable toilets all over town if the city allows this one.

The story, sad to say, is not over. It will come up again when the request for a permit is filed and then comes up for a formal council vote. (hh)

This story has been revised to make clear that no actual vote took place, and to note that the meeting video is available on the city’s website.

15 responses to “Outhouse can stay, four councilors say”

  1. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Bravo! A modicum of common sense prevailed. And, as long as they are properly maintained by the property owner, I’d have no problem with allowing & seeing more of them!

  2. J. Jacobson says:

    I wasn’t aware that Councilor Kellum could tap into the more subtle emotional states, like fretting. In most of his reported comments related to City matters, his emotional tone is bombast more often than not. Regardless of how he’s feeling (to fret or not to fret) his Nay vote on this important issue clearly demonstrates Kellum’s infinite shortage of compassion. But then, it’s easier to fret than to care.

    • Craig says:

      “As Christians we are charged with the wellbeing of our neighbors,“

      Isn’t that the ultimate charge of the city council?

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Hold on here…..has the Landmarks Advisory Commission given their stamp of approval?

    This thing doesn’t look like it safeguards the city’s historic heritage and may even have unapproved substitute materials (vinyl).

    • Melissa Sprecher " Rivercrest Bible Outreach " says:

      Perhaps it best to have a wooden traditional Outhouse structure built around it so as can slip inside of and the nearby parking change to loading and ( unloading only ;) but seriously maybe a 10 minute parking limit Zone in front of it to its West along the curb however the church parking lot will still have to address the ordinance regarding sleeping in vehicles and parking in nearby areas easily accessible to the Porta pot and if there would be any limit on consecutive duration. I would like to suggest a permanent directional light possibly with a limiting shield be installed on the pole directly above the Porta pot and something that I think the neighbors would appreciate would be for a noise limiting door closer and perhaps the neighbors closest to the porta potty should be allowed to pick the time when it would be cleaned in considering the noise of the pump truck out of respect most definitely to the immediate neighbor to the north as well. I say thank you to the neighbors also as I have often stopped to use this Porta pot as I connect with people through the ministry work I continue to see a need for. I also think the Porta pot should have a hand-washing station and that would also require consistent monitoring to remain functional daily but not sure what is supposed to happen when it goes below freezing perhaps a more sheltered positioning somewhere else around the building and the ability for the sunlight to shine on it more hours in a day might help. finally I hope all of these ideas ultimately help and not hinder the availability of the Porta-Potty and again say thank you to all you that have worked to help in its remaining but would like to add that Monteith Park should have one again at the playground structure as well :)

  4. Jim Engel says:

    Great comment Ray for allowing & seeing more of them! Put one on the patio to the City Hall entrance & label it “Suggestion Box”. The more “we” make it homey, convenient, & welcoming downtown to those homeless the more that will be attracted. I surmise that’s a possible reason many business downtown put up signs “No Public Restrooms” was to keep the riffraff & their attendant messiness out. Used to be a phone booth on most every corner. Now my City may become known for a toilet on every corner :( :(!

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      City Hall has open-public restrooms all hours it is open. But you already knew that. What part of my “…as long as they are properly maintained by the property owner…” comment do you so blithely dismiss? Only those property owners with enough wherewithal & compassion need volunteer – no on else for sure.

    • Lundy says:

      Jim, would you rather have exposed human waste on every corner? I’m open to research persuading me otherwise, but I would suggest that, homelessness aside, most cities are better off with more restroom facilities rather than fewer.

  5. Reiner Bohlen says:

    In this troubled era, it’s good to know that there are still Christians who do their best to follow the teachings of Christ. Kudos to the Presbyterian and First Christian churches for looking out for the “least” among us!

    “Matthew 25:35-40 King James Version (KJV)

    35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

    36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

    37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

    38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

    39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

  6. CHEZZ says:

    Complain and remain. Praise and be raised!

  7. Wanda Y says:

    Hang one of those flower baskets near it and nobody will notice the porta-potty….

  8. hj.anony1 says:

    Why doesn’t the establishment simply allow the porta-potty patrons to use the indoor plumbing? Do they also fret? Fret about what these folks would do once inside?

    • Hasso Hering says:

      At night the building is, of course, locked. So, no access to the facilities.

      • Rich Kellum says:

        I suggested that they put a locked door to the hallway, and make an entrance that could be used from the outside, but they didn’t want that.

        • hj.anony1 says:

          lol…right. The establishment should be 24/7, everyday. Kellum, you are spot on in this instance.


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