Unisex Public Restroom Sign with braille stock photo from Tilted Hat Productions/Shutterstock.

On Tuesday, December 4 the DC Council voted a bill onto its consent agenda to fund public restrooms. While DC law requires a second vote, it's almost certain to be passed in the final vote later this month. GGWash has been partnering with the People for Fairness Coalition to push for more public restrooms downtown.

The Public Restroom Facilities Installation & Promotion Act of 2017 establishes a working group to identify a model and sites for 24/7 stand-alone public restrooms, and directs a working group to propose a program to incentivize private businesses to make their restrooms available to the public during the hours they are open.

We'll keep you updated on what happens. In the meantime, here are some perspectives on the importance of restrooms from local people who are experiencing homelessness, which were first published in Street Sense Media.

Bathrooms for all by Michael Daniels

It would help all our citizens if the DC Council and Mayor Bowser established public bathrooms in the city. Many people are sick and cannot always control themselves. I am one of them.

I am a diabetic and I cannot hold my urine for very long. That means I have to get off the bus a lot. That also means I have to go between cars, on the side of trees, in alleys and in many other places where I don’t want to.

If we had public bathrooms, people in my situation would not have to urinate in the open, and thus would not have to feel embarrassed or ashamed because they are sick.

Public bathrooms will make the city cleaner and healthier. So, let’s build them now!

Public transit needs public restrooms, too by Marcus Green

We need public restrooms in Metro stations and in other high-volume areas. The New York subway has them, why not have them here? In some parts of town, you need to be pregnant or really sick to get the station manager to let you use the bathroom.

First of all, some station managers are too complacent or downright lazy. They are frequently either on their phones or the computer — or asleep.

Also, a lot of the station managers act like you’re bothering them. That’s a customer service issue. Hopefully Metro will hold mandatory classes for all managers so they know how to fulfill their job description.

Millions of commuters use Metro everyday. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice. I think Metro station managers should treat people the way they would like to be treated.

Thank you and God bless.

Bathrooms should be public by Anonymous

I’ve seen law enforcement officers more frequently compelling homeless people to leave Franklin Park and the Georgetown waterfront over public urination infractions. I’m sure those aren’t the only places where this is happening.

It’s hard to know if this is any one law enforcement agency in the most policed city in the country; we have the Secret Service, Metropolitan Police Department, Metro Transit Police, U.S. Park Police, Natural Resource Police and private security in “special police” uniforms and others. And it’s hard to tell if this is a department-wide directive that some are less stringent about enforcing, or if a couple individuals have taken it upon themselves to justify their presence in the parks.

While this kind of policing is a strain on the lives of people who have no alternatives of where to live and thus, where to relieve themselves, the problem is not law enforcement. It is the lack of alternatives for those in need.

It’s unfair for McDonalds and Starbucks to be the de facto solution for so many in need of a restroom. All fast food or fast casual restaurants, cafes, stores or service organizations should provide public restrooms during their operating hours. More port-a-potties could also help meet this need.

These changes aren’t specifically for people experiencing homelessness; they are for anyone that needs to relieve themselves. It’s a public health issue.

There are admittedly individuals who may disrupt an establishment. But theft, vandalism, and intimidation or harassment are committed by people regardless of housing status. Those individuals should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, not with a blanket policy. And more health resources are needed for individuals who may struggle with severe mental illness.

Regulations stipulate that when parks and other public spaces are reserved for demonstrations and events, a certain number of port-a-potties must be provided. Restaurants and offices are also required to provide a certain number of facilities, depending on their capacity. Why can’t this be done in places like Franklin Park? And why is this not required at places like the Georgetown waterfront? Tour buses dump loads of people by the fountains there at the bottom of Wisconsin Avenue daily. It’s nonstop. Elders, kids and everyone in between. Hundreds at a time, especially on warm days. Should public restrooms be required there? Most of the businesses close early.

I’m on medication that makes me have to “go” more frequently. If I need to be a customer every time I need to use the facilities, we’re talking $40 or $50 a day. I’ll often avoid drinking liquids because they go right through me. But that can lead to dehydration, which causes awhole other set of problems. This is an issue I face because of a medical condition, as do many other people. My homelessness just complicates the challenge.

I found myself near the Georgetown waterfront with no other options one day and had to find a concealed location in some bushes to relieve myself. I was lucky no officer saw me. Until better alternatives are made available, this basic bodily function should not be criminalized.

The preamble of the Constitution states that this country will “insure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare” for its citizens. You can’t do that by telling someone they cannot use the bathroom.

The author is the an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media

Do the best you can do by Melody Byrd

Do the best you can do. Keep the restroom clean. Respect others when using the restroom. Please knock on the door. Please lock the door. I think that you should be mindful of others when you are using the restroom.

And, I think there should be more public restrooms.

Homeless discrimination in restrooms by Laticia Brock

Showers should be an equal right.
Feeling and smelling good
makes healthy decisions bright.
I’m bouncing and bobbing, while wearing gloves.
Why can’t my homeless people use Dove?
It would make me feel better, if I had a simple shower.
Then my mental state would be stronger.
Now, can I get a job cleaning the bathrooms?
Because I remember the day when I needed a wash-up.
And a lady was in the bathroom doing her makeup.
She complained to the Amtrak attendant.
I couldn’t even finish getting freshened up.
I felt bad and said, “Your makeup is messed up.”
Now, I got a legal bar notice attached to my chest!

DC leads the way with public bathrooms by Henrieese Roberts

The DC Council is considering a bill that would allow construction of public bathrooms throughout the city. With this bill, DC could lead the way in preventing unsanitary practices that spread diseases like hepatitis A.

We usually have to urinate four to six times per day if we’re hydrated. Once we have to urinate, we must either use a bathroom or deposit the urine in a pad or diaper.

Defecation also becomes a problem if we do not have access to a bathroom or sanitary products to wipe the fecal matter from our bodies. We need to wash our hands to avoid carrying our fecal matter to doors and other surfaces as we move through our day.

The high rates of hepatitis A in some parts of the United States could lead to an epidemic, but DC could help curtail the virus’ spread. Let’s not become San Diego, which reported 580 cases between 2016 and March 2018. The outbreak cost $9.5 million and 20 lives, according to the Huffington Post.

Let’s lead the way by constructing public bathrooms throughout the nation’s capital and educating people about the importance of washing hands after using a bathroom. 

Julie Strupp is Greater Greater Washington's Managing Editor. She's a journalist committed to building inclusive, equitable communities and finding solutions. Previously she's written for DCist, Washingtonian, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and others. You can usually find her sparring with her judo club, pedaling around the city, or chatting with her neighbors on her Columbia Heights stoop.