A couple weeks ago, I saw a man suffering from homelessness standing against a building. I was standing nearby, looking at Google maps trying to figure out which train to take to an event. All of a sudden, I saw liquid forming near us. I looked at him, and realized he was standing against the wall, trying to act normal, but was peeing through his pants and into the street. A week later, I saw a homeless man peeing into a phone booth in the middle of the day, acting as if it was a stall.
I run with people living at a nearby homeless shelter, and sometimes we talk about the horrors of homelessness – not often, and only when they bring it up. They have said that the hardest part about being homeless is having no privacy and nowhere to go to the bathroom.
I work in global health, and a trendy cause to care about in this space right now is access to toilets. In fact, yesterday was World Toilet Day, a UN-recognized advocacy day for access to clean toilets worldwide by 2030.
Did you know 4.5 billion people live without safely managed sanitation? In 2013, 1,000 children died EACH DAY from diarrheal diseases due to poor sanitation. Clean and safe toilets can help keep girls in school, as attendance rates drop when girls cannot access toilets during menstruation. Every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates a $4.30 return in the form of reduced health care costs, according to the World Toilet Organization.
But you know what these statistics don’t show? They don’t show what a gross violation of human rights this is. The fact that all people cannot privately relieve themselves is appalling and unjust. How can we renovate subways, “clean” the streets, build apartment buildings (that usually aren’t affordable, by the way), and not provide more bathrooms? I simply do not get it.
I love that we have World Toilet Day, but let’s remember that the world also includes the US, and it includes this city right here.
Access to a toilet should be a basic human right. Until I stop seeing those suffering from homelessness relieving themselves on the streets, I will stand by this. Until thousands of children stop dying from diseases that could have been prevented by access to toilets, I will stand by this. #WorldToiletDay.