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East Harlem public bathroom sought by homeless, community groups

Picture the Homeless and the East Harlem Preservation said the large number of public urination summonses in the area is indicative of the need for a public bathroom.

Picture the Homeless calls on the city to

Picture the Homeless calls on the city to reopen the comfort station on East 125th Street near Park Avenue on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Picture the Homeless

East Harlemites have a message for the city: We just need to go!

Picture the Homeless and East Harlem Preservation members gathered Tuesday near a shuttered comfort station on the south side of East 125th Street near Park Avenue and argued the hundreds of criminal summons for public urination issued nearby indicate the area needs a public bathroom.

The city has issued 1,565 criminal court summons for public urination within two blocks of the comfort station between 2013 and 2017, according to Picture the Homeless, an East Harlem-based advocacy group led by homeless people. If all these summonses withstood legal proceedings, they would have collectively directed at least $78,250 to the city, according to the group.

Picture the Homeless said its research indicated more summonses were issued near the plaza than on other nearby blocks. 

"The city is trying to transform East Harlem into something shiny and expensive, but that's not for us — the bike lanes, the $100 million waterfront. That's not for the people who've been here for generations," Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, said at the Tuesday news conference, according to Picture the Homeless. "For us, all they have is harassment, tickets, mass displacement."

The city's Department of Transportation has indicated an engineering report recommended the demolition of the comfort station, but it has not shared the report with Picture the Homeless, which the group says makes it difficult to assess how much of the recommendation is due to imminent structural concerns versus financial considerations.

"The Corn Exchange Building is located across the street, and that was in much worse condition than this — but because it was deemed commercially valuable, they put … money into renovating and reviving that building," Picture the Homeless' civil rights organizer Nikita Price said Tuesday, according to the organization. "So why won't they do the same for the Comfort Station? … They have 15 expensive automated public toilets sitting in a warehouse in Queens — they could put one of them here, too."

The city Department of Transportation said the engineering report of the comfort station was under review, and did not respond to questions about the typical timeline or trajectory of the review process.

The department said it is exploring placing an automatic public toilet, which self-cleans after each use, near the closed comfort station. 

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