Many Honolulu park bathrooms that homeless people rely on were still closed on Wednesday despite the city’s claim a day earlier that the facilities would be open.

The city boarded up bathrooms islandwide last week amid park closures prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s despite guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say public bathrooms should be open and stocked 24 hours a day to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among the homeless population.

The Waiau District Park bathroom was still closed a day after Honolulu said it would reopen city restrooms. Courtesy of Steven Samuel De Gruy

The closures left Oahu’s unsheltered homeless population – estimated to exceed 2,400 people – with few places to relieve themselves or wash their hands at a time when public health experts say personal hygiene is a matter of life and death.

After homeless communities and advocates responded with outrage and announced a press conference, the city said on Tuesday afternoon that it would reopen facilities the next day. But when Civil Beat asked why bathroom doors were still blocked by plywood on Wednesday, the city said it will take time to make restrooms and outdoor showers available again.

“We ask for the patience of the public,” Parks Department spokesman Nate Serota said by email.

Bathrooms at Waimanalo Beach Park and at the state-run Waianae Harbor – homeless communities who vocally criticized the closures – were open on Wednesday while dozens of others were left closed.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources, which had also closed its state bathroom facilities, announced on Wednesday it would reopen restrooms at small boat harbors and boat ramps and keep them open “continuously seven days a week.”

Even when more “comfort stations” are reopened, most will still be closed at night, Serota said.

“We are worried that people would shelter in these facilities, which would defeat the purpose of social distancing,” he said, but added certain facilities may be open 24 hours with the help of community groups.

Asked whether the reopened bathrooms will have soap, Serota said they will be “stocked with the items that were previously available in the comfort stations.” Soap is not commonly available in city park bathrooms. He said nonprofits may fulfill that need.

“We’re currently working with community groups to provide other hygiene products in certain comfort stations utilized on a regular basis by the community,” he said.

Serota noted the Punawai Rest Stop in Iwilei, which provides toilets, showers, laundry and other homeless services, will start operating 24 hours a day by early April and has already extended its hours to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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