There’s No Digital Fix, or Flush, for a Very Pressing Problem

Well, it has finally happened. We are so digitally connected that technology is replacing some of the basic needs of our society.

We have a sexy voice to give directions while we are driving. That only eliminates the responses when we argue with the voice about who is right and how wrong the voice is. It does eliminate one of the classic issues of men (not) asking directions.

We have replacement body parts that are computer-enhanced, mind-controlled, and capable of performing better than the original. As mentioned in the movie “I, Robot” by Will Smith :You know that donor card? You don’t just need to worry about what they’ll take out, but what they’ll put in.

There are even some scary ideas out there, that ten years ago would be science fiction, but today is considered just fringe thinking.

For example. On “ Shark Tank,” a show where people present ideas seeking investment capital from six millionaires, a gentleman had the perfect blue-tooth solution: Surgically embedded blue-tooth. What made us twitch is that it was rechargeable but had a power source that would have to be plugged in nightly, through your ear. It did not even make the millionaires blink, and that was on prime time television.

We have sites that can give you a blow-by-blow account of everything thing you do throughout the day, no matter when or what you are doing. You can even include pictures.

We have the ability to track any Global Positioning System enabled device, go to a popular website and overlay a satellite map, and still another site to find out who owns what. We can tell who has used a phone, where they are standing, who is around them, and how fast they are moving. Some new phones even boast a system to help track family members, and in one advertisement, reference a second grader having one so the parents know where the child is.

What ever happened to old-fashioned parenting? When did it become necessary for us to rely on GPS attached kids that would send us a text message if they got more than 50 feet away?

We are suffering in this day and age of access from an excess of information.

And nothing can emphasize that fact more than a web site we just found. It’s, a site for you to find the bathroom closest to you.

Talk about service. Though the site relies on the input of people in the field, it still begs for questions about our digitally connected world. With a Blackberry and iPhone App, it can give you the closest bathrooms to your location. Connect that into the phones internal GPS system, it can actually tell you how far you have to travel, what directions to take, and how long it will take you. Don’t forget to sign up for SMS updates of new bathrooms in your area.

You can even rate the bathrooms on multiple criteria.

With one of us being a volunteer for a homeless ministry and the other being the founder and CEO, the first thought that came to mind was this. All the homeless people with cell phones should never again have a problem finding a bathroom. Yet again, the digital craze seems to provide a means to ease a pressing issue of homelessness.

Enter Albuquerque where the Root Cause of a Homeless Problem Gets “Flushed”

Upon entering random information in Albuquerque, we found that there were many bathrooms available to “customers” and “private” people. If you read the map right, Albuquerque has public restrooms everywhere they can charge an entrance fee, such as the zoo and aquarium.

But we couldn’t find any “public” bathrooms actually out in public. And that’s causing a dire situation for some business owners in Downtown Albuquerque are coping with a problem they wish would get flushed away.

Some members of the city’s burgeoning homeless community are using the streets and sidewalks as a public restroom.

A few weeks ago, the Albuquerque Journal reported that a spokesman for the Downtown Action Team says its clean up team deals daily with the aftermath of people going to the bathroom in public.

City officials told the Journal that more portable toilets aren’t necessarily the answer as they attract criminal behavior. They also said that complete vigilance and a police presence is the answer.

While we sympathize with Downtown business owners, a stepped up police presence just to move people on doesn’t solve the problem.

The fact remains, where can the homeless go to use the bathroom? Can you imagine being on the streets of Albuquerque after having slept outside all night? In addition to feeling dirty, grimy, quite possibly embarrassed and humiliated and conscious of the stares of other people passing you on the streets, there’s a good chance that you have to go to the bathroom. The problem is, where?

The problem with the homeless using the bathroom in public highlights the need for additional facilities for the homeless. We’re regularly at capacity, and turning away anywhere between five and 20 or so people a night. We hope that it doesn’t take a tragedy for extra facilities, or assistance of some sort, to be added.

Most businesses, quite understandably, have signs stating clearly that restrooms are for customer’s use only. If they don’t have signs, there’s a good chance that a street savvy person has been there before and they know that they’re not welcome.

It is important to note that most of those individuals relieving themselves in the streets are doing so because of a lack of facilities. They are not intentionally choosing to create a hard time for downtown businesses. Adding additional restrooms would alleviate some of that issue. Perhaps that proposed stepped up police presence could monitor the extra bathrooms.

A handful of Joy Junction guests asked about this issue said lack of restrooms is a big problem. They, and others, have learned to be creative. Guests said the Downtown Albuquerque Library and the Alvarado Transportation Center were their first and second choices respectively.

One individual said you have to be “sneaky” when using the Greyhound. This person said he only uses it when he has enough time and money to pretend he is getting a snack or looking at schedules. Even then, he said, once you leave, make sure you disappear, and don’t hang out front.

Some individuals who for whatever reason don’t make it to area homeless shelters hop over the fences on the construction sites. Sometimes, they said, they will use the porta potty’s there, or at other times, they admitted, “they will just find a spot.”

Some Joy Junction guests said when they have asked for directions to a bathroom, many times they are either ignored or receive a hateful response.

One individual said he was told, “If you had a home, you would know where the bathroom is.”

An answer like that is a non-starter. An editorial writer for the Albuquerque Journal had a better idea, stating, “Public restrooms, provided and staffed by the city or a social services non profit should be considered.”

As the Journal quipped, tongue-in-cheek, “Don’t pooh-pooh a fix.”

Lilly’s Story

Lilly (not her real name) is a recent Joy Junction life recovery program graduate. She recalled vividly the embarrassment and humiliation she suffered in years past when she had to use the bathroom.

At one point, pregnant and suffering from a urinary tract infection, Lilly went into a restaurant and asked to use the bathroom. She was not allowed to do so. Lilly said she was such dire straits she ended up relieving herself behind a dumpster in the parking lot.

“It was degrading,” Lilly said, ” The people looked at me as if I was the scum of the earth. All I wanted to do was use the bathroom. It’s not like they couldn’t SEE I was pregnant, yet they still treated me like I was scum.”

She said she experienced disapproving looks and similar refusals at many other restaurants and businesses.

Lilly said, “It felt as if they were treating me less than human. I felt embarrassed.”

Our Take

It is so important that this story and the trauma experienced by the most needy among us be bought to the attention of as many people as possible. There seems to be no digital fix for this most pressing and embarrassing of problems. What can you do to help?