Bathrooms should be public

A photograph of a gender-neutral toilet sign.


I’ve seen law enforcement officers more frequently compelling homeless people to leave Franklin Park and the Georgetown waterfront over public urination infractions. I’m sure those aren’t the only places where this is happening. 

It’s hard to know if this is any one law enforcement agency in the most policed city in the country; we have the Secret Service, Metropolitan Police Department, Metro Transit Police, U.S. Park Police, Natural Resource Police and private security in “special police” uniforms and others. And it’s hard to tell if this is a department-wide directive that some are less stringent about enforcing, or if a couple individuals have taken it upon themselves to justify their presence in the parks.  

While this kind of policing is a strain on the lives of people who have no alternatives of where to live and thus, where to relieve themselves, the problem is not law enforcement. It is the lack of alternatives for those in need.  

It’s unfair for McDonalds and Starbucks to be the de facto solution for so many in need of a restroom. All fast food or fast casual restaurants, cafes, stores or service organizations should provide public restrooms during their operating hours. More port-a-potties could also help meet this need.  

These changes aren’t specifically for people experiencing homelessness; they are for anyone that needs to relieve themselves. It’s a public health issue.  

There are admittedly individuals who may disrupt an establishment. But theft, vandalism, and intimidation or harassment are committed by people regardless of housing status. Those individuals should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, not with a blanket policy. And more health resources are needed for individuals who may struggle with severe mental illness.  

Regulations stipulate that when parks and other public spaces are reserved for demonstrations and events, a certain number of port-a-potties must be provided. Restaurants and offices are also required to provide a certain number of facilities, depending on their capacity. Why can’t this be done in places like Franklin Park? And why is this not required at places like the Georgetown waterfront? Tour buses dump loads of people by the fountains there at the bottom of Wisconsin Avenue daily. It’s nonstop. Elders, kids and everyone in between. Hundreds at a time, especially on warm days. Should public restrooms be required there? Most of the businesses close early.  

I’m on medication that makes me have to “go” more frequently. If I need to be a customer every time I need to use the facilities, we’re talking $40 or $50 a day. I’ll often avoid drinking liquids because they go right through me. But that can lead to dehydration, which causes a whole other set of problems. This is an issue I face because of a medical condition, as do many other people. My homelessness just complicates the challenge.  

I found myself near the Georgetown waterfront with no other options one day and had to find a concealed location in some bushes to relieve myself. I was lucky no officer saw me. Until better alternatives are made available, this basic bodily function should not be criminalized.  

The preamble of the Constitution states that this country will “insure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare” for its citizens. You can’t do that by telling someone they cannot use the bathroom.  

The author is the an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media. 

information about New Signature, a Washington DC tech solutions and consulting firm


Ad: Wegmans making a difference together

email updates

We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.