LETTER: Lack of toilets a social justice issue on Surrey’s ‘Strip’

Not having accessible toilets is not just an issue of sanitation, but also one of humanity and dignity.

A lack of access to public washrooms is the reality for many people living on the streets – especially on 135A Street in Surrey

The Editor,

Everyone poops – however, the access to publicly accessible toilets or washrooms is not as universal. When one is used to always having a washroom reasonably available, the idea of not having anywhere to go, or possibly being denied access, seems absurd.

This lack of access, however, is the reality for many people living on the streets – especially on 135A Street in Surrey, or “The Strip” as it is known. Not having accessible toilets is not just an issue of sanitation, but also one of humanity and dignity. The problems associated with poor sanitation are all too relevant to the health care system. This problem is a public health crisis. Alongside these health concerns come dignity, self-esteem, and the issue of safety associated with open defecation.

We recently conducted a survey of the area surrounding “The Strip” and found a scarce number of accessible washrooms, and those that existed had long wait times.

When members of the community, including volunteers and persons living on the street, were asked if access to washrooms was a problem, the answer was always a resounding, “Yes.”

What few public toilets are available are often only open during the day with limited accessibility for those living on the streets. Without the basic necessities such as a toilet, showers, or even somewhere to wash up, people living on the streets have many forces working against them.

Never before had the idea crossed our minds of where one goes while living on the streets. However, it became immediately apparent as we spent some time during a clinical placement at NightShift Ministries. Our hope is to bring awareness of this invisible problem.

Exploring the routes other cities have taken to address this problem, such as the Portland Loo and San Francisco’s Lava Mae, will hopefully lead to a solution in Surrey that is agreeable and beneficial to everyone in the community.

Sharing in humanity and contributing positively towards public health are the potential results of this very important issue.

Elliot Burns, Anna Demian, Dawson McCann and Deborah Gibson (Faculty),

Trinity Western University, School of Nursing Students

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