The city of Medford has installed a portable toilet at Alba Park on a trial basis to see if it will help alleviate the problem of human waste in the neighborhood.
Homeless people who frequent the park said they are already using the portable toilet installed last week and are grateful for the addition.
"I'm very, very glad they put that there," said Sandra Anderson-Cullmer, who was recently sitting on the lawn near the portable toilet with other homeless people, some of whom were napping in the grass.
Anderson-Cullmer said she is homeless and has many medical problems, including colon cancer. She said when she has to relieve herself, the need is immediate.
She usually tries to go to the bathroom at the nearby Jackson County Jail, the county Health and Human Services Building, the First Presbyterian Church or a market if those buildings are open. Once she said a worker at the market refused to let her use the restroom there, so she pulled down her pants and went in the parking lot. The alternative was to soil herself and her clothing, she said.
Others who frequent the neighborhood also need a dignified way to relieve themselves, Anderson-Cullmer said.
"It's wherever we can do it. It's embarrassing and sad and degrading," she said.
Alba Park lacks a working restroom facility. The grounds of the First Presbyterian Church, local businesses, Alba Park and the historic Carnegie Building have regularly been used by people relieving themselves — leading to messes that have to be cleaned up.
The Medford Parks & Recreation Department installed the new portable toilet at Alba Park at the request of the city manager, said Parks Recreation and Facilities Director Rich Rosenthal.
He said the company that owns the portable toilet could remove it from the park if it is vandalized or people dispose of inappropriate items, such as hypodermic needles.
"That's the risk. If something goes sideways, they could take it out," Rosenthal said. "People do need to use the restroom. We're happy to give it a shot."
He said the parks department has a restroom replacement plan, and Alba Park is high on the list of parks that could use a new restroom.
"This is a good experiment to see if a portable restroom can be used in a proper manner. It will help us make the decision whether to invest in a more elaborate, permanent restroom," Rosenthal said.
Ashland experienced a similar problem of human waste downtown five years ago. City officials learned that paying $1,800 annually for a portable toilet near Lithia Park was cheaper than keeping a restroom open all night and paying for custodial services and vandalism repairs.
After a one-year trial, officials decided to keep the portable toilet in place. The toilet is occasionally vandalized, parks officials in Ashland said.
Some people in Medford believe problems increased in Alba Park and the surrounding neighborhood when Hawthorne Park was closed for renovations. Hawthorne Park has since reopened with new features, including more lighting, and fewer homeless people hang out there.
Biowaste clean-up has decreased at Hawthorne Park but increased at Alba Park, according to Medford Parks & Recreation officials.
The decision to place a portable toilet in Alba Park came after the Medford City Council heard complaints about human waste in the area and the Mail Tribune ran an article examining the issue.
The day the article appeared on April 2, the Medford Police Department visited the park and issued almost two dozen citations for offenses that included trespassing, drinking in public, smoking cigarettes in the park, smoking marijuana in the park, prohibited camping and providing false information to the police. They also made an arrest for methamphetamine possession and a parole violation.
The MPD Facebook page listed the offenses, saying, "While trying not to criminalize someone just for being homeless, we are obligated to enforce the laws of the park, and we did plenty of that this weekend."
The Facebook post added, "We need to all work together to find a solution to this issue, but it is not an easy fix. In the meantime we will continue to monitor the activities and take enforcement action as violations occur, but of course we can't be there 24/7."
A gazebo at the park frequented by homeless people has been noticeably more empty since the enforcement action.
MPD Lt. Kerry Curtis said he doesn't believe the police visit to the park was prompted by the newspaper article.
"We don't typically do things based on newspaper articles," he said. "We recognize the concern the community has and the city has. Whether it's that park or Hawthorne Park or Bear Creek Park, we spend time at those parks because we want people to enjoy them."
Curtis said conditions had been worsening at Alba Park.
"As of late, it has almost become unusable. People have not been able to eat lunch in the gazebo area because it's been occupied by homeless folks," he said.
Curtis said all city parks close at 10:30 p.m. and no one is allowed to camp overnight.
Although fewer people were at the park and no one was in the gazebo when she was resting on the lawn, Anderson-Cullmer said she hasn't heard any word on the street that homeless people should avoid the park because of a greater police presence there.
However, a man who was wandering on the sidewalks said he was being careful not to sit down anywhere for fear he would be accused of loitering.
Curtis said he hopes the portable toilet helps make a difference at the park.
"We hope that the park is cleaned up and the Porta-Potty eliminates anybody from using the landscaping as a restroom," he said. "We want that park to be usable and to be a friendly park."
Anderson-Cullmer said the portable toilet will help homeless people address a basic biological need.
"It's human nature," she said.
Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.