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Drug Use Leads Some Colorado Businesses To Close Bathroom Doors

By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) - A sign outside an ink! Coffee shop in Denver's Cherry Creek North reads, "No Pay. No Poop. No Pee."

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(credit: CBS)

For the homeless and drug users in Denver, business doors are often shut out of fear the restrooms will be used by drug users to inject drugs.

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(credit: CBS)

"We can't use the bathroom why? Because I'm homeless, because I get high?" asked Charles Jackson, who admits to being a drug user.

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CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Charles Jackson. (credit: CBS)

He says the drug policy doesn't make sense.

"If I spend 99 cents I can go in and shoot up," he said.

While the issue is not new, Starbucks recently announced a new policy stating anyone can come in and use their restrooms for free; but that offer cannot be used for drug use.

The decision comes after two African American men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks because they were not buying anything inside the store. One wanted to use the restroom.

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Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Center in Denver, believes there is a much better solution; supervised injection sites like in Vancouver and other cities.

RELATED: City Council President Tours Supervised Injection Sites In Vancouver

"Right now people are injecting in bathrooms, and I want to take injecting out of public bathrooms and into a controlled environment," Raville said.

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There is a compromise: Public mobile bathrooms being deployed around Denver. They're clean, attended and equipped with a syringe disposal.

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Benny Jones, the restroom attendant at East Colfax and Pennsylvania, was asked by CBS4's Rick Sallinger, "Have you had overdoses?"

"We've had a couple of them," Jones said.

Overall, he says they have clean bathrooms available for anyone from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. every day.

For Jackson and his friends, some businesses may not want them, but the welcome mat is out in some parts of the city as more public mobile restrooms are put in place.

Denver Public Works would like to clarify that there has never been an overdose inside any of the mobile restrooms.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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