28 Oct 2011
Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the US have access to “porta-potties” (eg: Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (as in Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage for toilet facilities on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King – or somewhat shorter queues at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in DC, a twenty-something occupier showed me the pizza parlour where she can use the facilities during the hours the restaurant is open, as well as the alley she uses late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues – arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems or irritable bowel syndrome – should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.
Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in US cities – “as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist”, travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed. And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. A report entitled “Criminalising Crisis”, to be released later this month by the National Law Centre on Homelessness and Poverty, recounts the following story from Wenatchee, Washington:
What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets – not just urinating, but sitting, lying down and sleeping. While laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities” – that is, to build a latrine – cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened, state that he or she has no other place to live”.
It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter or restrooms for their indigent citizens.
Continue reading at: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/10/20111026131051935268.html