Bathrooms are for Customers Only

Posted: March 21, 2015 in Our Broken World

Early on in my wanderings – even before choosing to become homeless – I took notice of just how common it is for businesses to put up signs that say ‘restrooms are for customers only’ or ‘no public restrooms’. I find this trend both sad and curious.

It is sad in that it deviates from our oneness, our interconnectedness, our interbeing. It is such a simple thing – for one to use the bathroom – a necessary thing. And yet by telling people that our bathrooms are ‘off limits unless you give me money’ it is just another method of separation and division.

I find it curious in that the alternative is far worse than the use of your bathroom. If I, as a homeless man, need to take a shit – and I have nowhere to go because no one will allow me to use their restroom, it’s not like I can just hold it indefinitely. So the alternative is to take a shit outside on the street.

There is another aspect to this that also makes me curious. These bathrooms, while they may exist within the confines of a particular establishment, are connected to public utilities and sewer systems, which are shared resources – many times funded by tax payers. Which I have been until now.

One common argument is that ‘if we let you into our bathroom you’ll make a mess’; which of course makes no sense. Whether I purchase something or not has absolutely no bearing on whether or not I am a disgusting pig who would smear feces all over the walls. Money isn’t a factor here.

Another argument is that higher volumes in rest rooms would require more frequent cleaning, or more rigorous cleaning in some way. Both of these argument may have some level of merit or may be completely false. But does it really matter when most places just have a cleaning schedule?

Lastly, business proprietors may be concerned that opening their restrooms up to the public might result in a long line of endless drunken and drugged out homeless people who block customer traffic and bring an end to their business success; a highly unlikely result of being kind to other human beings.

So what is this concept that we are playing with here where we believe that it’s okay, as a society to require payment for using a restroom? How is it okay that we turn a homeless person away because they cannot afford to purchase something before being allowed to pee. Is this acceptable to us?

For my own part I am challenging this position because it is so basic and so human – and yet none of us fully appreciate the availability of a bathroom until you are dependent on store keepers for their usage. None of us appreciates to plight of the homeless who MUST shell out money for such a basic need.

Here’s an even better example. Right now the Seattle Transit Authority is hiring someone for $94,000 whose job it will be to go around the city and make arrangements for city bus driver to be able to use bathrooms at stores. Yes, even your local bus driver must buy something if he wants to go.

Are we really okay with this idea? What is the real problem here? It is our fear, uncertainty and doubt playing with our minds. It is division and separation that is fueling the fire. It is greed that writes and posts these juvenile and counterproductive policies. But it is we that allow it to go on.

As I wander the streets, find the place that I will be sleeping every night, and make arrangements to use a bathroom, I will be offering to take over the bathroom cleaning schedule of the establishment(s) that agree to open their doors to myself and others; stripping away every argument as needed.

Again – we take bathrooms for granted in this country. We are used to seeing these signs. We don’t think twice about them because we are usually in these establishments buying things. And yet out on the street is someone whose very existence is directly impacted by such things.

This is just one example of many regarding the brokenness of our society, how we fail to take care of one another, and how we allow our fears to get the better of us. I say take these signs down, do away with the locks and keys, and open your hearts, minds, and bathrooms to the truth.

  1. Marian says:

    I worked in the homeless sector in Texas over twelve years and the day I lost empathy was the day I had to walk away. It was hard because it was my passion at one time. But I saw the “face” of homelessness change – it went from what I considered the true homeless – the ones with mental illness to becoming more people substance abuse of one kind or another (which made them very dangerous). We addressed the similar problem of public bathrooms for the homeless – there was a great solution – a self cleaning portable restroom but very expensive. So our solution was at first wport-a-potties but some homeless individuals decided to destroy them…then the unthinkable happened a homeless woman was taken on there and raped by a homeless man. So they were removed. Then day shelters were created but you had to be clean and sober to enter many refused. Now have Haven for Hope – a mixed used facility – shelter, day shelter, services and open camp concept. It is still in its growing stages so cannot say if it is successful. I do like your bartering concept but not all the homeless will be willing to do this. Society has hindered the homeless with hand outs we have hindered them greatly by showing sympathy not empathy. Just my opinion. I will be following your blog. You are a better person than I could ever be giving up my worldy possessions. I hope you accomplish what you are setting out to do. Bring awareness to all that is wrong in today’s society. 🙂


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