“Mommy! I have to go potty, NOW!”
What parent has not heard these words and frantically looked around for somewhere to take their child? No gas station handy or big store to run to. “Ah, we’ll just pop into (insert a food place or smaller retail store).” Hmmm, maybe not.
Just recently, I was assisting an older gentlemen with a trip to his credit union. After completing his transaction, he dashed out, saying “There is no restroom available here; I’ll run over to Burger King.” He returned with a small bagged purchase and told me the restrooms were locked and that he had to buy something to use the restroom. He was told that the homeless population prompted them to do this.
The release of bodily waste is a pretty basic human function. For people with small children, or those with a medical condition, the words “for customers only” can certainly create a stressful situation. When you gotta go, you gotta go.
What disturbed me the most about this incident with the fast food place was the fact that the homeless population was targeted as the reason. The reason it bothers me so much is if you are homeless, where exactly can you use a restroom? Most shelters are closed during the day, leaving the homeless population to wander and wait for evening. Not all gas stations are accommodating either, one in particular due to the frivolous litigation by the disabled man who was suing establishments for minor infractions of the ADA. (On my way out of town once, I had to beg and promise I would not report them for lack of ADA adherence to use their restroom.)
Urinating in public is frowned upon, to the point that some have been charged with indecent exposure, an offense that, if it led to a conviction, would require someone to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life. But when ya gotta go … .
Some of the homeless population use public restrooms to tidy up a bit, this is true. Would we prefer them to be dirty and stink?
The public restroom seems to be going the way of the public phone. If you can afford to buy something, you can use the facilities. It’s hard to say what the solution to this problem is. It is not hard to simply be a compassionate human being. Perhaps you have “regulars” who use your restroom often. Would it be out of the question to encourage them to clean up after themselves as a condition for using the restroom? Maybe have them empty a trash can or two in return for the “privilege” of using the facilities?
A long-term solution could be building transient-friendly restroom areas in all communities. Paso Robles recently completed a beautiful restroom area in the downtown city park. Morro Bay has public restrooms with showers.
Finally, our attitudes toward the homeless need to shift from “them” to “those could be us, but for the grace of God.”
-- Mary Alvarado - Atascadero