A Certain Call

Posted: April 10, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions

One thing that all people share in common is the call of nature.

When it beckons there is really nothing you can do but respond the best you can. Sometimes the call is a slight whisper. At other times the call is nothing short of an extremely loud shout. And regardless of where, when and how it comes – you have to respond. For a homeless person, this can present its own set of problems.  

Unlike members of the main stream community, a homeless person doesn’t have many options available when it comes to having to find a bathroom. If the person is at the Prado Day Center, they can use the bathrooms there. In the evening, there’s the night shelter. It’s during the rest of the day that creates the challenge.

Non-homeless people often wonder why homeless people seem to "hang out" in certain areas of town more than in others. Many times, it’s the need to have easy access to a restroom. Public parks, for this reason, tend to draw homeless persons. Also, public parks are a place where the homeless can remain for longer periods of time without drawing undue attention to themselves. Shopping centers, because of their multiple stores and shops, draw their share of homeless people, as do fast food restaurants – all because of bathroom facilities.

In the downtown area, the homeless can use the public bathrooms at City Hall, Mondays through Friday (excluding holidays). Tuesday through Saturday, they can use the bathrooms in the SLO Public Library (again, excluding holidays). On Sundays, they use the bathrooms at the Mission Plaza. Other than that, there are simply not many other places in the downtown area where a homeless person can find a restroom they can use. The downtown area businesses are not overly fond of allowing the homeless to use their bathrooms and use the excuse that their bathrooms are for customers.

I was reading some SLO Tribune archives on the Internet a week or two ago and came across an article from 1990-something that mentioned a public bathroom on the 100 block of Broad Street. The facility had been opened for less than 6 months before it was closed. The reason cited for its closure was that the homeless were defacing the building with graffiti and loitering in the immediate area. The local area businesses complained that having all of those homeless people just hanging about was bad for business.

The archive didn’t have any photographs so I have no idea what type of graffiti it was or what it looked like.

First, I wondered if the graffiti had been done by local homeless or transient homeless (homeless people who travel from one city to another on a type of "circuit"). Then I began wondering if it was indeed the homeless who had been doing the graffiti, or if it was the work of "taggers."

The bathroom is still there, but it’s locked up tighter than a drum and is of no use to anyone. Yet the local area businesses are the ones who scream the loudest that the homeless are urinating and defecating in public.

Perhaps the city should do a serious re-think about whether or not they should re-open that bathroom. Since there are police in the area that are on foot patrol in the downtown area – how hard would it be to have them keep an eye on the place to make sure no one does anything unsavory to or near that bathroom?

I’m quite certain there is a solution that is amicable to everyone. The sad part is that no one wants to take the time to really find it. Everyone wants problems to be addressed, but no one wants to put forth the effort needed. Instead everyone wants a "quick fix" and, subsequently these quick fixes are nothing more than knee jerk reactions. They address only the symptom and do nothing to correct the underlying problem.

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