One day last week I read that the City was disbanding its winter shelters, which not only provided protection from the elements but also linked people up with services they needed- health care, jobs, and housing. These shelters “housed” a very small percentage of the total homeless population but their importance shouldn’t be dismissed. That same day I received six forwarded emails of a New York Times article “Downturn Puts Stresses on Libraries” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/us/02library.html?_r=1
Yeah, I know all about the “stresses.” This past winter I watched the ranks of the homeless swell. They stood in a long ragged line across the street from the library, waiting for night to fall, for the library to close. Instead of shopping carts, they had luggage with wheels, with blankets rolls strapped to the tops. There have been more and more young people and the working poor with $1,000/month mcjobs unable to pay $1,000 monthly rents or unable to save the security deposit on more affordable housing. There are more homeless with dogs and cats.
What are absent in this discussion about homelessness are public toilets. Think about that. Our public buildings afford minimal safety and shelter from the elements, but there are no toilet facilities on our streets. The areas around our library have become a public latrine and this is a very bad situation. The City has been saying for years that there is no money, blah blah blah for something as elemental and necessary as toilets. Marti Emerald has been a tremendous advocate and because of her efforts there are now public toilets (I believe) around Island St. They are obviously not enough and they need to be available throughout the downtown area.
A whole pile of economic stimulus funds has come to the City for homeless programs. Get on the phone and start emailing Kevin Faulconer, City Councilman for the downtown area and Marti Emerald with ideas on how to use these monies. Why are we disbanding shelters? Why are we not providing public toilets?
Homelessness is not an “aesthetic” problem and too often the first response by citizens is precisely that assessment. People end up in the streets for many complex reasons. The cost of medical care, the loss of jobs and the lack of affordable housing for the working poor rank right up there. A street is not a home and it is unconscionable that we lack the political will and ability to make sure that people have a place to live. Let’s do something.
Go here for a photo gallery of English public toilets.