SEATTLE — When courier Brent Williams makes his daily deliveries around the city here, he runs into one persistent problem: There’s almost nowhere to use the restroom. Most public buildings are closed under the pandemic, and restaurants and coffee shops that have shifted to carryout service won’t let him use their facilities.
“It’s hard to find any place where I can use the restroom,” Williams said, speaking outside a library in the Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood that has reopened its restrooms to the public.
The library is one of five citywide to have opened their doors, and other parts of the city have almost no options for those who need to relieve themselves or wash their hands.
“I understand why some people downtown will duck into an alleyway,” he said. “There’s nowhere else to go, and I’m not going to do it in my pants.”
The lack of restrooms has become an issue for delivery workers, taxi and ride-hailing drivers and others who make their living outside of a fixed office building. For the city’s homeless, it’s part of an ongoing problem that preceded COVID-19.
“It’s gone from bad to worse,” said Eric, who lives in an encampment near Interstate 5. (Eric asked to be identified only by his first name.) “It’s definitely much, much harder.”
A nearby pet supply store used to let homeless people use the restroom, but that changed during the pandemic. Conditions improved markedly when the city placed a portable restroom and handwashing station near the camp, but Eric said many more parts of town still lack similar amenities.