Fargo installs porta potties downtown due to excrement and hundreds of ‘biohazard incidents’

It’s not exactly a pleasant subject to write about, much less personally encounter while shopping, sightseeing or on a lunch break downtown. But workers and visitors to city center Fargo need to watch their step like never before.

North Dakota’s largest city has suddenly become a biohazard risk during warmer months, when more homeless people and visitors congregate downtown. This year authorities and businesses logged hundreds of cases of used needles, human excrement and other examples of anti-social behavior.

Forum News says the ugly reality on Fargo’s downtown streets and sidewalks forced local leaders to look for ways to better accommodate those less able to control their bodily functions in public.

This past summer, staff working for the Downtown Fargo Business Improvement District, which is part of the Downtown Community Partnership (DCP), began to notice a problem.

Human waste was increasingly showing up in parts of downtown, with the situation getting so bad it eventually became a topic of discussion for the DCP’s Quality of Life Committee.

“One of the things we learned was there is a lack of free public restrooms in our downtown area, especially in those late-night hours,” said Cindy Graffeo, DCP executive director.

Regulating when and where one chooses to go to the bathroom used to be one of the basics for participating in society, the first thing parents teach their children. Yet rather than placing the onus on the individual, downtown leaders determined a shortage of public restrooms must be the crux of the problem.

Graffeo noted that during past summers, street reconstruction projects were taking place downtown and portable bathrooms used by construction workers served double duty as public bathrooms.

Now that street work is mostly finished, the portable bathrooms are largely gone, she said.

“If you are human and exist in the downtown area in the late night and you have bodily needs, unfortunately there’s that lack of public restrooms,” Graffeo said.

The city offered to provide two portable toilets recently by a church and the Community Engagement Center on a trial basis to offer much-needed relief when mother nature calls unexpectedly. But they drew the line at positioning the porta potties on Fargo’s main business thoroughfare.

“This isn’t ideal. But, we gotta try something, because something is better than nothing,” she said.

The temporary bathrooms set up as part of the pilot project will not be going up near Broadway, Graffeo said, contrary to information that has been appearing on social media.

“None of these are on Broadway, none of them will affect the businesses downtown,” Graffeo said, adding that the pilot project is intended to give people “the dignity they deserve as a human being.”

Fargo’s no San Francisco — not yet anyway. But it’s hard to see how a couple portable toilets will assure the dignity as human beings that shoppers, tourists and families deserve when going downtown.