In these steamy days of summer, the odors rising outside of Baltimore's City Hall are enough to crinkle noses of passers-by.
Some break into a gallop to get away.
The cause, much to the consternation of City Hall politicians and employees, is homeless people using nearby trees, manicured bushes and stairs as a public bathroom.
"It's terrible," said West Baltimore Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. "When it's humid outside, I walk by holding my breath with a quicker pace."
Friday, the city installed a portable toilet on the sidewalk at Gay and Lexington streets, the southeast corner of the plaza, in hopes that homeless people would stop using the bushes and stairs near City Hall.
That plan evidently failed. "No one was using it," said Wendell Sutton, special assistant to the mayor.
City officials suspected that the homeless were too shy to use the portable bathrooms because the door opened out onto a busy intersection.
Yesterday, plans were under way to move the portable potty across Gay Street to the east side of the War Memorial itself, a shady area that Sutton called a "more inconspicuous" place, where it will be joined by another toilet unit.
Sutton said the city will spend a month studying whether the portable bathrooms stop the stench. The cost is $125 a month for each bathroom, including twice-weekly cleanings.
For years, City Hall employees and politicians have privately complained that the plaza smelled. But apparently word never got to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- who rarely uses the main entrance -- until last week when a City Council aide asked him to install a plaza toilet.
Complicating the problem is concern from some city officials that the blue portable toilet sheds cheapen the look of the historic plaza. Leaders considered concealing them in the bushes, but that idea was vetoed because it would restrict access for cleaning.
Another problem, some City Hall workers say, is whether the portable bathrooms will become havens for such activities as drug use and prostitution.
"There isn't a time of the day when you can't walk out there and see some guy [urinating] on the sidewalk," said a City Hall secretary, who asked that her name not be used because she fears that the subject embarrasses the mayor.
Mitchell said it's more than sidewalks. "My car has been victimized," he said.
And what might the homeless men who gather at the plaza think of the new toilets?
"I'll use it if I'm over there," said one homeless man, Terrell Planter, matter-of-factly.
Pub Date: 7/31/97