Portland’s homeless need hygiene center with showers, bathrooms, laundry, PSU survey finds
Author: Suzanne Pardington, University Communications
Posted: February 27, 2017

People living outside in Portland struggle to meet their basic hygiene and health needs because of a shortage of showers, bathrooms and washers and dryers, a Portland State University survey found. One possible solution: a community hygiene center that is open all day, every day.  

Lisa Hawash, assistant professor of practice in PSU's School of Social Work, led a team of researchers and graduate students in a survey of 550 people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Among their findings:

  • 40 percent use public bathrooms in City Hall, libraries and the mall; 33 percent use the Portland Loo; and 32 percent use shelter restrooms.
  • 40 percent experienced harassment by police or private security.
  • 21 percent have been denied access to food or services, and 22 percent were turned away from shelters because of hygiene.
  • 40 percent reported medical problems such as methicillin-resistant staph infections, scabies, lice, open sores, endocarditis and urinary tract infections related to the lack of hygiene services. 

Students in Hawash’s graduate level poverty courses spent evenings and weekends from 2014 to 2016 surveying 550 people at shelters and other service organizations. They worked in collaboration with people experiencing homelessness to develop the research questions. 

Survey respondents called for a hygiene center that could stay open at least 12-14 hours a day and offer accessible showers, supplies, bathrooms, laundry facilities and storage space. Some community organizations, such as Sisters Of The Road, are advocating for a hygiene center to help meet the needs of an estimated 3,800 homeless people in Multnomah County. A new point-in-time homeless count began last week. 

“We know that we are not going to solve homelessness soon, and we need to be open to and working towards many solutions,” Hawash said. “We don’t know if anyone will ever fund a hygiene center, but they can’t say they don’t know there’s a need.”

Barriers to accessing hygiene services include limited hours, distance from facility, and other issues such as long lines, the survey found. Some organizations such as JOIN and Transition Projects provide showers, laundry and bathrooms, but slots are limited. JOIN provides 40 showers a day and vouchers for a laundromat. Transition Projects can offer 100 showers and 48 loads of laundry per day.