The first of several public toilets and sinks have been installed in Kensington, a move Philadelphia officials hope will stem the neighborhood’s ongoing hepatitis A outbreak.

Installed on Monday, the two restroom trailers and a hand-sanitizing station were activated on Wednesday — and promptly got a warm Philly welcome.

On its first day in action, the soap dispenser at Kensington Avenue and F Street was tipped over into a trashcan and dented.

“15 MINUTES ON KENSINGTON AVENUE,” reads a Facebook post from an account called Juniata News. “New sanitizing station is being vandalized already.”

The pop-up potties are part of a pilot program organized by the city’s Managing Director’s office. The program’s cost is around $250,000 for installation and twice-daily cleanings through the end of the year.

Each mobile restroom trailer has three toilets, plus sinks. They’ll be locked up each evening, according to spokesperson Deanna Gamble. The ADA ramps will also be removed at that time.

Here’s where the existing facilities live:

  • Restroom trailer 1 at Monmouth and Kensington
  • Restroom trailer 2 at Somerset and Kensington
  • Handwashing sink at Kensington and F Street, across the street from McPherson Square

Gamble said the beat-up sink has already been fixed — and strapped to a nearby telephone pole to prevent further abuse. The city plans to install a third restroom trailer in about a month.

A battle against human poop

Philadelphia health officials first sounded the alarm for Hepatitis A in July. The number of cases citywide, about 30 annually, had quintupled in the last two years. Most at risk are people who are battling homelessness and drug addiction, according to health department data.

Just last week, the health department warned people that an employee of Yumcious Donuts had contracted the infectious disease — and said anyone who had eaten there should be tested.

A common way to spread the disease: contact with poop. That happens a lot among homeless communities, like those in the River Wards neighborhood.

“It amazes me that there is so much human suffering — and human feces — throughout this neighborhood,” Kensington resident Nick Fury told Billy Penn in July. “But people are pooping on the street because they have no other option.”

Since then, the city has run a few vaccination clinics around McPherson Square, and now have started installing the wheeled sinks and toilets.

It’s a solution that has already been employed by cities like Minneapolis. Experts say it can help quell the spread of disease in areas where people are living on the street.

“We will evaluate this approach at the conclusion of the pilot and determine its efficacy in addressing the outbreak,” said Gamble about Philly’s program.

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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...