By Margaux Everingham

Nature calls and you have nowhere to go? That can lead to a messy situation both figuratively and literally. Among the myriad of problems faced by the underserved in our community, a clean and safe place to use the restroom is one of both the most pervasive and the most often neglected issues. For most individuals, finding a restroom is nothing noteworthy. For somebody sleeping on the streets, finding a restroom can be a task wrought with embarrassment, frustration, and personal hazard.

There are only a handful of public restrooms in Santa Barbara County and the majority of them are not open 24/7. Despite the fact that all-day restrooms are not a requisite for city planning, the lack thereof follows a larger trend of neglect for the underserved. In fact, “anti-homeless” hostile architecture has been institutionalized in various cities world-wide. Hostile architecture is a relatively new concept that discourages public spaces from being used in ways that they were not intended. For example, armrests on a bench may not have been included for your comfort as much as they were deliberately positioned to inhibit the bench from functioning as a bed. 

All that being said, it is important to note that opening public restrooms is not an easy or inexpensive project to launch. Challenges include funding, maintenance, safety concerns, placement, etc. Policy makers will have to weigh the benefits of implementing more public restrooms.

Doctors without Walls-Santa Barbara Street medicine is an organization that is acutely aware of the social determinants of health. As a community, it is important that we continue to look at these issues and find ways to help those in need. Providing more public restrooms is just one way that we can improve the health and well-being of the underserved.