Our failure to guarantee that we have a place to relieve ourselves when the need arises seems trivial until you need one. Then you realize that, without a doubt, this is a much more important issue than is commonly realized. It is also a vivid example of the sharp differences in access to the necessities of life that exist among the members of our different classes and a powerful indictment of our current social and political system. If we can’t acknowledge the most indisputable of our commonalities, how can we ever confront and resolve the more complex and difficult challenges that confront us?
Governments are, as a rule, not interested in trying to provide these facilities to the public if they can help it. They are expensive to construct and maintain, possibly messy and frankly embarrassing. It is preferable to ignore the issue and leave the private sector to carry the burden. If you are well-heeled and well-dressed there are always plenty of places to find relief. If not, there are not. As the population ages, this has gone from a problem to a catastrophe and can not be allowed to continue as it is any longer.
In some major European cities, like Paris and London, it has been the rule to provide attended and ubiquitous facilities for many decades. The health risks that accompany ignoring this issue are obvious and unavoidable. The means to provide enough political pressure to change these conditions are not easily generated. Using income from toilet-mounted billboards to pay the freight has not worked here, replacing one form of pollution with another. More creative and effective strategies are needed and they are obvious:
Combine public toilets with other vending and income-generating opportunities so that these locations can be attended and of the highest quality
Incentivize restaurants and those others with existing facilities to make them more widely available
Establish a program of both urgent and regular maintenance to relieve these more accessible locations of the most burdensome aspects of this situation
A network of support groups, including public health, homelessness, community, and human-interest organizations can combine their influence to establish an effective force to confront this issue and deal with it successfully. There are already some international groups working to bring awareness and concern to this. They need to be bolstered by other forces, both local and large like hospitals and doctors organizations as well as potentially influential individuals. This may not be a glamorous matter but it is one that touches everyone and is a measure of our willingness, as a society, to put aside our embarrassment and deal with our most universal problems.