Public bathrooms in Chinatown get rave reviews from homeless, businesses

Public bathrooms in Chinatown heavily used by homeless
Mental Health Kokua is charged with overseeing the restrooms, and handing out toiletries.
Mental Health Kokua is charged with overseeing the restrooms, and handing out toiletries.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every day, about 70 homeless people visit the two curbside public bathrooms the city installed in Pauahi Hale in Chinatown.

The homeless count on the public restrooms, installed in February, for a hot shower and a place to relieve themselves privately.

"Plenty of people who live on the streets around here use those showers several times a week," said Bill Hanrahan, of Mental Health Kokua's Safe Haven.

The non-profit service provider oversees the operation, handing out toiletries and towels. The bathrooms are hosed down several times a day. Users get 10 minutes to freshen up.

"It's a blessing really, honestly it is," said Stephanie Marie, who lives on the street and has frequented the bathrooms since they opened.

"Here it's seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early risers and late bloomers get a hot shower no matter what," she said.

The bathrooms were built to handle heavy use -- and abuse. Vandalism was expected but hasn't happened -- no graffiti, no damage. Meanwhile, public urination and defecation around the area has lessened.

And that's gotten the attention of Chinatown merchants.

"They've been very supportive and very happy that it's there because it's actually cleaned up the sidewalks," Mental Health Kokua's Greg Payton said.

He added that there are challenges.

There's just one staff member to monitor the bathrooms and some homeless have tried to sneak in in pairs to do drugs or have sex.

"We have a rough crowd so we get verbal abuse and threats from time to time, but for the most part we're able to handle," Hanrahan said.

The bathrooms are so successful, they're becoming a model. Councilman Joey Manahan wants a similar set-up in Mapunapuna for homeless who live under the airport viaduct.

Safe Haven pays $850 a month for supplies for the Pauahi Hale site, and always need donations of towels, shampoo and soap.

"I think it's a useful resource until a longer term solution is found," Hanrahan said.

There is talk of extending the hours the Chinatown bathrooms are open.

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