City streams miserable music to discourage lavatory lollygagging
It’s hard to ignore the grating nature of songs that play on a loop in the public bathrooms in downtown Grand Junction. The children’s tunes include one called, “The More We Stick Together,” which some might remember children singing and dancing to on the television show “Barney & Friends.” There’s a tongue-twister of a ditty called “Polly Wolly Doodle” and the seemingly endless “The Ants Go Marching,” to name a few.
The rather irksome music isn’t by accident.
As officials with the city of Grand Junction and the Downtown Development Authority brainstorm ways to make the bathrooms unattractive for people who vandalize and sometimes sleep in the facility, they believe adding the annoying music may be one tactic to keep people on the move.
“We want the intended use to continue, but it got to be a magnet for loitering,” said Rob Schoeber, the director of parks and recreation for Grand Junction.
Schoeber said the city considered simply locking up the bathrooms, but that goes against the intent of the restrooms, which is providing a service for the entire community and tourists.
Damage to the restrooms has been extensive. Vandals have broken out the glass mirrors and damaged a glass block privacy wall in the men’s bathroom. People use toilet paper to light fires in the restroom and litter the floor with used hypodermic needles. Someone punched out the light sensor, apparently in an attempt to make restrooms darker for sleeping. People and their pets have been discovered sleeping on the floors.
After vandals kicked in the doors, city workers changed the hinges so they swing the other way. When the city closed the restrooms this winter, someone set fire to the inside of the adjacent portable toilet.
In response, the city has changed lighting in the bathroom from a dingy yellow light to bright white lighting, which appears to have stopped some of the vandalism for now.
“That seems to reduce some of the problems,” Schoeber said.
Keeping the downtown bathrooms a well-maintained resource for the whole community is part of a larger issue for city officials and members of the DDA.
City officials feel their hands are tied on vagrancy issues on several levels. Grand Junction abandoned an attempt to enforce an anti-panhandling ordinance after the city’s ordinance was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
A federal court judge last year agreed with the ACLU that the wording in Grand Junction’s ordinance violated First Amendment rights of free speech by limiting panhandlers’ right to ask for money.
Also, a 2015 ruling in a federal district court case, Bell v. City of Boise, maintains that it is illegal to enforce camping bans for homeless individuals if no shelter space is available.
Without legal tools for police officers to cite panhandlers or ask people not to sleep in public areas, the city must proceed cautiously, City Attorney John Shaver said at recent meeting of the city’s Vagrancy Committee.
“We can deal with the behaviors of the people sitting and sleeping, but absent of them having a place to go, we have to be careful,” Shaver said.
In response, city police officers are willing to perform a survey of the downtown based on a program called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Police officers also will present an idea to DDA board members on using ambassadors to offer a friendly face and resources to locals and tourists in the downtown core.
The ambassador program is being used in Durango to counteract the presence of vagrants on their city streets, according to a story in The Durango Herald that is being circulated among officials here.
Current tactics already being used to limit loitering include blocking off electrical outlets in the downtown core, except during festivals. Outlets at the city’s parks are blocked after hours for the same reasons shelters are made an unattractive place for people to spend the night.
Police also recommend business owners close off their wireless internet networks to reduce the possibility of someone camping outside a downtown store.
Allison Blevins, co-communications and marketing director for the Downtown Business Improvement District, said the issue of homelessness and vagrancy in the downtown core is one of the top issues of concern among customers and business owners.
It will be the topic of an upcoming monthly meeting for BID members. DDA board members also will receive some information from the Grand Junction Police Department on handling vagrancy issues through crime prevention tactics at their meeting Thursday.
Blevins said the changes to bathrooms seem to have stemmed the rampant vandalism.
The city said it plans to close the restrooms after the bars close and unlock them in the early mornings as a further measure to keep people from sleeping there or vandalizing them. The bathrooms were created in 1996 as a joint venture with the city and the DDA.
Blevins said she finds it encouraging that the city is helping come up with ideas to limit vagrancy.
“I think that for the safety for our guests downtown we should continue to pursue environmental design,” she said.