‘A street is not a home’ nor a toilet

by on April 6, 2009 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health, Homelessness, Organizing, San Diego

A popular contemporary public toilet design Eddie Ryle-Hodges/Corbis

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 flower kiosk, combined with public lavatories, designed by Piers Gough Martin Godwin/Guardian

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.

After all, we're not asking for champagne with our toilet.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

doug porter April 6, 2009 at 7:09 pm

getting affordable healthcare would have a huge impact on the homeless situation. so many people have been bankrupted due to the greedy overlords of the “health” insurance industry.
the cost of healthcare needs to be addressed THIS YEAR…and the solution is SINGLE PAYER. the wingers will call it socialism; it’s no more socialist than public libraries (originally a socialist idea, BTW).


Dave Gilbert April 6, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Nice work Anna!

I’ve noticed that along Newport most businesses have a sign saying “no public restrooms” posted in their front windows. I guess this is to keep out the street people, and we do have a huge population of them here too, but I’m also pretty sure it’s also because a lot of those stores are older buildings and their lavatories weren’t compliant with the ADA http://www.ada.gov/

I know that a few years ago someone was going to as many businesses in our area as they could, to see if their bathrooms were compliant and if they weren’t, the shopkeeper could either be sued or pay a huge sum to settle. This was in addition to making them ADA compliant.

Luckily here in OB there’s a public restroom at the foot of Santa Monica at Abbott (among others) but I still see a lot of (for lack of a better word) crap around OB. It’s bad enough when pet owners don’t pick up after their dogs, but when people start defecating in public, well that’s just plain wrong on so many levels.

No public restrooms? Well how about a private one then? Because something’s got to give and you can be sure, someone’s got to go.


annagrace April 6, 2009 at 7:57 pm

The photos accompanying this article (Patty? Frank?) are great. They got me thinking… Why can’t the People’s Potties become an art installation as well as a social/public health installation? How many years now have cities been trotting out those damn art cows, as if there are no new sources of inspiration nor opportunities for creative public discourse? San Diego artists should get paid to design unique, FUNCTIONAL toilets that businesses and residents would want to see on their block. (Call it the Lookie Loo project.) We need to find creative solutions to our environmental, health and social problems, and too often we overlook the role of our artists and visionaries.


Patty Jones April 6, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Frank gets the credit for finding these great photos Anna.

Lookie Loos! I love it… Maybe here they can call them OB People’s Potties.


OB Joe April 6, 2009 at 10:23 pm

annagrace – you’re right on, sister!


Larry OB April 7, 2009 at 7:32 pm

For the record…we did lose a bathroom at South OB. You can still see the little building under the base of the pier.


Frank Gormlie April 7, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Larry, sure I remember that place. It was always a fairly dingy, smelly, and piss-poor excuse for a restroom but at least it was one.


John Stump, City Heights April 8, 2009 at 10:11 am

Dear Friends,

I agree entirely that our society and leadership are greedy selfish and non humans concerning the poor and needy. {I am avoiding the term “homeless” as that term stereotypes individuals that may not be homeless but are rather “houseless” or perhaps needy souls.)

In OB and City Heights we have indigenous persons who have lived in our neighborhoods for years and consider the neighborhood their home even though they do not rent a house. These persons are “houseless” not “homeless”. We could easily make life better and more pleasant for these individuals.

Schools, parks and public building could be designed and operated to provide access to sanitary washrooms, showers and dry sleeping platforms. The current approach is to shut out persons of need and to fence of these buildings to deny admission. Every park should have the showers and facilities we gladly provide to sun bathers at the beach.
The taxpayers annually provide the Zoo some $10 million dollars to house monkeys; but fights to a crisis to find a couple of hundred thousand for the winter shelter.

Nearly $7 million is spent by the City for the regulation and control of animals in each budget year- there is a lot of money for an animal shelter but little for human care. So the City spends some $17 million to take care of Bonzo, Fluffy, and Fido but almost nothing to take care of our fellows. There is little debate and no audit review of these expenditures

The Mayor and Council leadership try to weasel out of this municipal responsibility by placing the burden on the County of San Diego. They want to make human care someone else’s problem. The original charter of the City of San Diego contained a Department of Public Health and Social services (Article V Sections 60 -61. In the 60’s, based on promises of efficiencies, the voters permitted the consolidation of these services with the County Regional government. These promises have not been fulfilled and it is time to review the needs and meet or obligations.

I think that in the upcoming 2010 City Budget adoption process we must consider a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which addresses human health and survival needs first before any other matters and expenditures. Please ask the City leadership to spend at least as much on humans as animals in the 2010 Budget. $17 million dollars will go along way to meeting the needs of the poor and needy residents of our City.

Finnally, Solutions start whith each of us and not just the government. Ask yourself what are you doing to solve this challenge. Do you share?
All the best
John Stump
Jwstump @cox.net


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