Where can local residents, away from home, head when Mother Nature calls? Not too many places as a scarcity of public restrooms in Turlock has proved difficult for some, even prompting one local resident to approach the City Council.
The primary locations that an individual can head to for private use include the library and public parks, but that means there are only a limited number of bathrooms available at any given time. Especially since the City of Turlock opens the bathrooms in the morning and locks them at 3:30 p.m. in the offseason between October and March. The library is also closed on Sundays and Fridays.
“When the bathrooms are open and there is not City of Turlock staff in the park, the risk of vandalism increases tenfold,” said Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Superintendent Erik Schulze.
Presently there are public restrooms available for use at the Regional Sports Complex, Pedretti Park, Donnelly, Crane, Broadway and Quaile Rand Norton parks, formerly known as the Sunnyview dog park. Columbia Park also had a restroom reinstated in recent years after the City of Turlock had to remove it due to vandalism and illegal activity.
“If there was graffiti painted on a wall at midnight it would be painted over by 8 a.m.,” recalled Westside Ministries Director JoLynn DiGrazia back in August.
Columbia Park’s status as an epicenter of crime on the Westside of Turlock began to diminish in the mid-1990s as the City chose to invest in the park in an effort to combat ongoing crime. In time the neighborhood was invigorated and the installation of the Spray Park in 2010 was the impetus behind the establishment of a new bathroom facility.
“Improving Columbia Park really played a vital role in improving the entire area. People used to vocalize concerns about attending camps or swim lessons there but it is really not much of an issue anymore,” said Director of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder in August.
The City of Turlock received a $203,000 federal Community Block Grant to rebuild bathrooms in Columbia Park.
“These bathrooms are not inexpensive. They come with a big price tag,” said Schulze.
Vandalism and crime remain the primary reason that City parks are not open after dark, even during the park rental season which runs from March to the end of October, when the facilities open first thing in the morning. While Schulze said that the Turlock community at large uses the facilities respectfully, some are prone to misuse it.
While homeless individuals are not responsible for all of the vandalism or abuse of public restrooms, homeless advocate Vernon Price did note that homeless individuals often at fault are those not in control of their own mental state. However, finding the next public restroom is constantly on the mind of a homeless person regardless.
“It is a daily and ongoing concern. It is a life-sustaining concern,” said Price.
While homeless people have a right to water and sanitation sanctioned by the United Nations, Price is cognizant of the fact that some homeless use public restrooms for illegal activity such as drug use. Therefore, Price’s aim is to educate the homeless on ways they can access their rights without compromising the entire homeless community’s access. Presently he is collaborating with local churches with the hopes of establish portable toilets for homeless people to use and also be tasked with maintaining.
“We can change how businesses look at us and how the community looks at us,” said Price.
However, he did acknowledge there is one bathroom in particular that has undoubtedly been taken advantage of: the Jack in the Box at the intersection of Main Street and Golden State Boulevard.
“There is so much abuse,” said Price shaking his head.
Jack and the Box Team Leader Marques Anguis attributes the problem to the fast food chain’s downtown location as it is centrally located between Central and Denair parks where many homeless individuals spend their time. However, he said the issue seems to be improving in the two years he has worked there.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a consistent problem. It’s really hit and miss,” said Anguis. “Some days there are a lot of problems and sometimes there aren’t.”
Anguis said that there seems to be a decline in the homeless population which could be helping, but the Jack and the Box also instated a new policy which could deter misuse. In order to receive the key to the restroom users must show a receipt from the restaurant.
“Two years ago you just had to ask for the key,” explained Anguis.
Next door to the Jack and the Box is clothing boutique Envy Fine Clothing which has a “No Public Restrooms” sign on the window. However, according to General Manager Maria Nash the sign is not to deter the homeless that often gather outside the shop.
Envy employees keep their purses and personal items near the restroom which is also adjacent to where purchased products are stored for customers planning to return to the store. Another issue is the onslaught of American with Disabilities predatory lawsuits that have swept the Central Valley.
“It’s more a security thing for us,” said Nash. “It’s just better for us not to allow it.”