August 9, 2019

A Seattle man’s DIY toilet kits are helping his homeless neighbors

Here are three stories to inspire you as you head into the weekend.

Cities like Seattle and Oakland, California, (pictured) are facing an affordable housing crisis. While city leaders, and the nonprofit and business sectors collaborate on solutions, individuals like Seattle's Mark Lloyd are also pitching in to help. Photo by Aric Crabb/Digital First Media/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people and organizations are creating in their communities. This week, one man’s attempt to give homeless individuals safety and dignity with a private toilet, a San Jose pop-up asks residents to be involved local decisions, and a Renewal Awards finalist goes green. What’s happening in your hometown? Tell us at

Sanitation in Seattle: A software developer in one of America’s wealthiest cities is giving residents in need a safe place to use the bathroom. With an ongoing homeless crisis in Seattle, Mark Lloyd began to notice encampments popping up in his own neighborhood, just east of downtown. So he decided to do something. The result is a toilet kit that can be easily assembled just about anywhere. Each kit consists of a small pop-up tent the size of a phone booth, a 5-gallon plastic bucket, cat litter, garbage bags, toilet paper, sanitizer, and a toilet seat.

With no reliable facilities for housing insecure residents, cities like Seattle have been grappling with a public health emergency. Lloyd has been distributing these DIY kits for about three years and estimates he’s given away 75 to 100. He doesn’t take donations and produces them with his own money.

Lloyd’s story was featured this week on NPR’s Morning Edition. He told KNKX’s Gabriel Spitzer that these toilets are just one step in helping to address Seattle’s homeless crisis—especially in his own neighborhood. “I really like giving out toilets and feeling like I’m doing something there, but I feel the most value when I’ve been able to help someone out who I’ve gotten to know.”

Pop-up feedback: The city of San Jose is testing an innovative way to encourage civic dialogue—in the form of a life-size “suggestion box.” The giant metal box the size of a shipping container welcomed visitors in Buena Vista Park to engage in discussion about issues affecting the neighborhood, namely the use of autonomous vehicles. The pop-up was conceived in partnership between San Jose’s Department of Transportation, the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, and the design firm IDEO.

Joanne Cheung, who project managed the pop-up for IDEO, stressed the importance of inclusive collaboration. “The origin of the project is the realization that in the context of emerging technologies, you need to have it ultimately serve everyone,” she told San Jose Inside. “You need to co-plan it with everyone in the very beginning.

Appalshop goes green: It ain’t easy being green, but 2019 Renewal Award finalist Appalshop has stepped up to the plate. The Kentucky-based nonprofit, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, recently unveiled the “largest net-metered renewable energy system in Eastern Kentucky” at a ribbon cutting on June 7.

Appalshop, whose mission is to uplift the voices of the Appalachia, boasts an art gallery, theater, radio station, and a media production and training facility.

All of that work will now be powered by more than 200 solar panels that will cover the majority of the nonprofit’s energy use, and save them money so that they can focus more of their budget on telling the stories and supporting the arts in the region.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.
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