I believe that as a society — in general, we fail to recognize the importance of accessible, free, public washrooms. Many of us take for granted the importance of public washrooms because of the availability of washrooms in our own homes and those in private businesses (i.e., cafes, fast food establishments etc.), however these spaces are not always accessible for all members of our society — specifically the homeless and/or visible minorities.
Using myself as an example, I frequently have the need to use a bathroom while long distance running, which means that I am likely far from home, and potentially not near any local businesses where I could relieve myself. Even if I did happen upon a business of some sort, they might not grant me — a stranger, access to their washroom, which would be understandable. Oftentimes people are required to be paying customers to be given access, and in many countries — especially outside of Canada, payment can be required just to use the washroom regardless of whether you are a customer or not.
I have noticed that especially during the pandemic, with many businesses having reduced working hours or closed completely, along with public health guidelines that recommend minimizing contact with others, accessible bathrooms are incredibly difficult to come by. This is by no means the worst consequence of a global pandemic, but it only makes me feel more concerned and sad for our unhoused neighbors who deserve the dignity of a private place to relieve and clean themselves. I recognize that many businesses — Starbucks for example, have recently adopted policies that no longer require restroom patrons to be paying customers, but Starbucks isn’t open 24/7 and not every business has made this policy change, and during a pandemic where many businesses are no longer operating as usual, it has highlighted just how insufficient our cities have been planned to cater to the most basic biological needs of the citizenry.
If the only viable option for going to the bathroom is to find a hidden spot outdoors and hope that nobody is around to catch you in the act, then our society is only encouraging behaviours that result in A — human waste ending up in shared, open, public spaces, posing a health concern, and B — an increased likely hood that marginalized members of our society will be forced to break city bylaws, further impacting their social perception within our society.
By creating more free, accessible, public washrooms, everyone could benefit. The construction and maintenance of these spaces could provide welcome and steady employment, and all members of the public — not just the homeless would have more reliable options to relieve themselves in the inevitable situation where the urge strikes and a washroom is needed.
As Dr. Ian Malcolm put it in Jurassic Park — “when you gotta go, you gotta go”.