A flyer for Picture the Homeless’ new “Free to Pee” campaign. Image courtesy of Picture the Homeless.

Homeless New Yorkers Demand a Place to Pee

By David Brand
Queens Daily Eagle

A private place to pee is a civil rights issue.

That’s the message in a new campaign by the organization Picture the Homeless, which calls on the city to open more public restrooms, starting with 15 self-cleaning toilets they say the city has locked away in a Queens warehouse.

“We might not like to talk about it, but every human being has to go to the bathroom. And New York City has made that hard for everyone, closing hundreds of public restrooms over the last three decades,” Picture the Homeless said in a statement.

On Aug. 28, the organization will host a protest in Madison Square Park to demand the city build more public restrooms.

Access to private bathrooms typically depends on a business owner’s or manager’s discretion. That often means homeless New Yorkers are locked out of restrooms — unless they purchase something first, Picture the Homeless says.

Spending money is usually not an option for low-income residents, especially people experiencing homelessness. The lack of available restrooms can have dire health consequences.

“For homeless people, a little thing like needing to go to the bathroom can cause big problems,” Picture the Homeless said. “Many homeless people have had medical emergencies or police interactions as a result.”
Homeless people experience urinary tract issues and related health problems at a rate 300 percent higher than the general population, the organization said. In addition, homeless people suffer from extreme dehydration when they stop drinking water in order to minimize trips to the bathroom.

The organization says 15 self-cleaning bathrooms have been sitting in a warehouse in Queens for 12 years. Such facilities would cut down on the number of citations for public urination, low-level offenses which can entangle poor people in the criminal justice system.

“Homeless people should not have to choose between a trip to the precinct or a trip to the hospital when it’s time to use the bathroom,” Picture the Homeless said. “NYC has 15 self-cleaning toilets sitting in a warehouse in Queens.”

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