Public restroom access could soon expand in DC

Photo by Tim Mossholder //

Outside the National Mall, it can be nearly impossible to find a public restroom in D.C. But a new bill introduced in late January is aiming to change this reality by increasing the number of public restrooms across the city. 

Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto introduced a bill titled “Expanding Access to Public Restrooms Act of 2023” that if passed and enacted, would require the Department of Parks and Recreation to include public restrooms in parks that are one acre or more. The bill would also create a grant program for business revitalization programs to fund the construction and maintenance of public restrooms. 

Restroom access has long been an issue for people experiencing homelessness in the District. Homeless residents have long lobbied for expanded restroom access. 

“This issue affects everyone. Everyone needs ready access to a clean, safe restroom when nature calls. Access to a clean, safe restroom is a United Nations recognized human right. It’s fundamental to human dignity, is key for personal and public health and contributes to livable cities for everyone,” the People For Fairness Coalition, a homeless advocacy and outreach organization, wrote in 2018. 

Pinto agrees people experiencing homelessness face unfair barriers in accessing public restrooms and it’s imperative to change that, she said in an interview. 

“We know this is a major challenge for our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness who don’t have access to private restrooms,” the councilmember said. “It’s really important to be providing these public restrooms, and our neighbors experiencing homelessness who are living outside will be able to go to the restroom with dignity.”

Sybil Taylor, a vendor with Street Sense Media, said she’s excited about the bill and that using the bathroom should be a guaranteed right for everyone. 

“It’s hard enough to be on the street,” she said. “We all have to go to the bathroom.” 

There are several requirements outlined in the bill — the restrooms must be free to use, and it has to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at a minimum. The intent of the legislation is to ensure all eight wards see a dramatic increase in access over time, Pinto said.  

This bill follows legislation passed in 2022, that allows individuals with an eligible medical condition to access any public or private restroom at retail establishments. The council also passed the “Period Equity Righting an Injustice of District Residents Act” in 2022, which requires period products to be available in all District government buildings, shelters and congregate care facilities. 

“Public restrooms should be a right in our city,” Pinto said. “This is really important for inclusivity and accessibility.”

Issues |Living Unsheltered

Region |Washington DC

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