New Public Toilet Opens in Harvard Square

A small crowd donned “I love toilets” stickers for the grand opening of a new public restroom in General MacArthur Park at the convergence of Church Street and Massachusetts Avenue on Friday. {shortcode-562f16732cbf8d8deb771f9b0743c6cb40500647}

The restroom's installation was the result of a community initiative aimed to provide the city’s homeless population with a basic public amenity.

Richard Parker, a Harvard Kennedy School lecturer, was at the forefront of the initiative. A Cambridge resident of 25 years, Parker said he has watched the homeless population steadily grow and thought a public toilet would be a small step towards helping the homeless. As a result, he launched a petition that garnered about 7,000 signatures.

Parker said that, following nearby Christ Church’s decision to close its restrooms to the public due to drug overdoses and staff harassment, there was a “situation in which there were hundreds of people who had no facilities and you know, like eating and sleeping, this is one of the fundamental human needs.”

Parker teamed up with partners ranging from churches to businesses to mobilize the effort to install a new restroom.


“It was parents of young kids in the park, because they had no place to take their kids, the Business Association because homeless people were urinating and defecating in the alleys,” Julie B. Wilson, also Harvard Kennedy School lecturer, said. “So in the end there was a big coalition that was pretty broad.”

Denise A. Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, was also a part of the coalition. Jillson said after Christ Church was no longer able to accommodate homeless restroom use, “the cause and effect on the business community was almost immediate.”

The Cambridge Police Department ensured the security of the facility and community remained a priority.

“We were involved in the entire planning process from start to finish,” Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said. “I think the design [of the restroom] really speaks to some of the concerns that we had to make sure that if somebody goes in there and needs help, we can get in there and help them.”


Local leaders credited the project’s success to the coordination across different organizations in Cambridge.

“This comfort station is really a testimony to the work of a lot of people,” Mayor E. Denise Simmons said during the opening ceremony. “In so many ways, it really is a public-private partnership where the City Council got together hearing the needs of so many individuals to do something that’s really going to have an impact on the Square.”

—Staff writer Mahnoor B. Ali can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AliMahnoorbano.