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It happens all too often when you stop at a gas station on a major highway or visit a fast food restaurant or retail shop in a big city. You realize that you have to pee, or perhaps your digestive condition suddenly alerts you to an imminent need to defecate. You run to the facilities, only to discover that they are locked. The bathroom isn’t occupied. Instead, the business owner or manager has decided to make those facilities closed to the public without proof of purchase.
Now you have to wait in line and ask the clerk for a code or a key. Many times, that key will come attached to something large, highly visible (and embarrassing) and probably covered with potentially harmful bacteria. The whole intention of this process is to keep the indigent and homeless population from using the bathroom. That is flatly unacceptable, and we should all let business owners know that.
People Don’t Stop Needing to Use the Bathroom When They Become Homeless
Many people know that the bathrooms of public libraries are often used by those who have no place else to go. However, that means that people may have to travel long distances to use a bathroom and may have no options later in the evening. What do you think these people do when they have to go but have no place to do so? Do you think they just wait in pain until they find a facility they can use? Some may, but others will simply find a quiet place where they can do their business and move on with their day.
Our society is quick to judge those who have no means of providing for themselves. The indigent and homeless populations often struggle for visibility, despite living in urban centers and interacting with hundreds of people each day. Our communities need to be better at recognizing and providing for the basic human needs of homeless humans. Businesses that reserve the use of bathrooms for customers only are harming not only the most vulnerable among us but also our communities as a whole by contributing to potentially serious public health concerns related to the disposal of human waste.
Access to bathrooms and adequate sanitation is a fundamental human right, even if the person has no means of patronizing a business that provides the facilities. Businesses that choose to serve a community should have to make their facilities accessible to anyone who needs them, customer or not. After all, they make their space open to the public in the hopes of profiting. Asking them to provide basic human services to an at-risk population (or just visitors who don’t find anything they want to buy) is far from an undue hardship.
Human Waste Is a Major Disease Vector
Do you remember history class very well? If you do, you likely recall that one of the most important and influential contributions of Rome was plumbing. Developing a system for sanitation made ancient Rome much more advanced than other civilizations of its time. They had running water, as well as latrines and sewers. This prevented a common issue in early cities: the accumulation of human waste in public places.
As you likely already know, the human digestive tract is brimming with bacteria, and that’s in cases where a person is healthy. Many illnesses, including Hepatitis A, can be passed through exposure to infected fecal matter. Exposed human waste attracts flies and other pests, and it takes quite some time to decompose one its own.
Do you want to step down off the curb on a major street only to realize that you’re standing in human poop? Can you imagine the smell if people start tossing their fecal matter in public trash bins on corners? How would you feel if someone you know and love contracted a serious illness due to contact with someone else’s waste?
Having a modicum of compassion and sympathy for the basic human needs of others should be enough to prevent that from happening in our society. Bathrooms should not be reserved for customers only. Businesses profit off of their proximity to major city centers and roads. They should make their spaces and their facilities accessible to anyone who needs to use them. At the end of the day, the cost of water, soap and toilet paper is minimal, and staff would need to clean the bathrooms at least daily regardless of who uses the facilities.
Requiring a code from your receipt or a bathroom users to request and carry a filthy object attached to a key is a waste of energy and a sign of putting personal greed over basic human needs. The next time you experience this at a business, take a moment to let the business owner or manager know you will not patronize them again until they make their bathrooms freely open to the public.
For previous Ladybud coverage related to homelessness, click here.
By Kutoid – World Toilet Organization, Singapore, CC BY-SA 4.0