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United Way of Lancaster County


Relocated homeless shelter addresses downtown’s overnight toilet issue

A portable toilet has been installed behind the former Benjamin Roberts building. (Photo: Dave Costarella)

Wednesday’s relocation of the Lancaster County Food Hub’s emergency shelter has come with a side benefit: A portable toilet accessible overnight to the unsheltered individuals who congregate around Binns Park.

The amenity now sits behind 232 N. Prince St., the former Benjamin Roberts furniture store and the new home of the shelter following its move from Ebenezer Baptist Church. The building is roughly a 6-minute walk from Binns Park.

“It’s a start!” advocate Dave Costarella said on Facebook.

Costarella, who assists homeless individuals with his “My People on the Street” and “Hand Up Partners” outreach initiatives, has been pleading for an overnight toilet option downtown. On Tuesday, he and half a dozen others made their case to City Council, calling it an issue of public health, dignity and basic human rights.

At the time, city Deputy Director of Community Planning & Economic Development Rebecca Geiser said the city could not find a suitable location on public property or a private property owner willing to help out.

That changed within hours with the shelter’s move. It operates from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven nights a week, with supervisory staff on site the whole time.

Aware of the need downtown, the Food Hub and site owner Ben Lesher agreed to installing the portable toilet on a trial basis, Geiser said Thursday.

Paige McFarling, the Food Hub’s executive director, said, “We hope that this equipment, under the watchful eye of both the Food Hub and city of Lancaster, can be maintained in a safe and clean manner and provide unsheltered neighbors privacy and dignity.”

She encouraged community members to help “to create a successful outcome,” by reporting it if they notice any vandalism or other issues.

City officials have stressed that portable toilets are at best a short-term solution. They are planning on installing a permanent public toilet known as a Portland Loo at the Prince Street Garage near the corner of Prince and Orange streets. That likely won’t be until spring, however, due to the challenges of installing plumbing and pouring concrete in cold weather.