Homelessness, Bathrooms, and COVID

A sink, where people need to go to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

TMI time. Or, for those who aren’t into texting: time to give a little too much information (but there’s a point to it…I promise).

A couple of weekends ago, I was heading home from a small gathering of people rooting for my favorite soccer/football team, Norwich City. It was a good time, but there was one problem: I needed a bathroom. However, I couldn’t find one (at least not without getting full table service at a restaurant, which I really didn’t want to do) because many of the places I relied on in the past for public bathrooms wherever I was were closed due to what they call “COVID precautions.” And even places that you think would have an open restroom for customers, such as a Dunkin Donuts with a sign on its door saying that the restroom is available for customers (which I was, because goodness me, I wanted to use a bathroom even if it required getting one or two donuts), were closed due to “COVID precautions.”

However, I had a home where I could eventually use a bathroom and relieve my discomfort. It was an unpleasant and at times uncomfortable ride home, but I had a home to go to where I could use a bathroom.

But some people, unlike me, do not have homes to go to and therefore struggle to find bathrooms because of all the typically public restrooms or customer-only restrooms closed due to “COVID precautions.” And because of that, because of said “precautions,” we are, in many cases, creating potential sanitary issues, not to mention issues of basic human dignity.

Speaking from experience, at the height of the pandemic in New York City, all bathrooms owned by the city’s Parks Department and all bathrooms in libraries were closed.[1] This is a real problem because, as I’ve found myself learning more about homelessness during the pandemic, it is these library and Parks Department bathrooms (along with other public restrooms) that many individuals experiencing homelessness would rely upon to use a bathroom and wash their hands. Without those bathrooms, what does someone do to use the bathroom and wash their hands?

The fact that we’re asking these questions, in New York and in many other places,[2] is troubling under any circumstances, but even more so in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. It’s troubling under any circumstances because the ability to use a bathroom and wash one’s hands has become more of a luxury of having a home and money during the pandemic, when in reality it’s a human necessity and something that is really needed to uphold the dignity of a human being. It’s especially troubling because without the ability to wash one’s hands, gone is also the ability to wash away one’s germs—the last thing we need during a global pandemic. In a way, by taking away access to public restrooms, we might end up increasing the risk of COVID among our most vulnerable.

So why have many bathrooms closed, even though for the homeless the availability of bathrooms is an important COVID precaution?

The sense I get (though I could be wrong) is that it is related to some sort of fear of those cleaning the restrooms catching COVID. I can understand why some people may have that fear. However, I think the fact that COVID cases have stayed low in my home city (New York), even as more restrooms are opening up in restaurants and other places (albeit not as many as there should, especially for the homeless), is a sign that you can have open restrooms, clean them, and keep the spread of the virus slow, all at the same time.

What I propose, then, is that more places with public restrooms open their restrooms, but take the appropriate precautions in keeping the restrooms clean and the cleaning employees COVID-free. As New York’s low COVID case count during the summer shows (we’ll see what the fall brings), it is possible to have open bathrooms and a low level of COVID cases. So, let’s have bathrooms available for people experiencing homelessness. Let’s push for our elected officials to do this. After all, using a restroom and washing one’s hands at any time, but especially during a global pandemic, should not be a luxury, but a human right, a public health issue, and a matter of human decency.


[1] All libraries were closed for a time during the pandemic. And, as of the time I am writing this, most libraries are still closed in New York City.

[2] I hate to say “do a Google search.” But really, please do. The situation has gotten so bad in many places that the Los Angeles Times has a story on strategies for peeing while out (which I can’t read in full because of their paywall). Pew Charitable Trusts was talking about issues with bathroom access in Seattle. And so on…

What Is…Performative Allyship?

In the wake of the wrongful killing of George Floyd by a police officer a few months ago, I’ve increasingly seen the following term online: performative allyship. Given the increased use of that term, I thought I would do a “what is” post on this term, even though it wasn’t in my original plans. It’s another term that may seem like social justice jargon to some but is important to understand.

Performative allyship is, generally speaking, an action or set of actions that do more to show how virtuous someone is than help the cause they say they support. Performative allyship is not a term used as a compliment, but as a criticism of someone’s actions.

But how can you tell that you, or someone else, is engaging in an action of performative allyship?

Based on the reading I have done, it seems like different people have different opinions on the point at which someone’s allyship crosses the line into performative allyship. However, I think there’s probably good agreement that if the action you’re thinking of has a clear benefit for you, but does not have a clear benefit for the cause you say you support (or worse yet, if the action you’re thinking of doing may actually harm the cause), then you may need to reconsider your action (or think through it some more) in order to avoid performative allyship. One thing that I might consider to be an example of performative allyship was when some people were wearing safety pins in the aftermath of Trump’s election to the presidency—while the intention was to show that someone would be a “safe” person on issues ranging from race to LGBTQ+, I recall the pins being widely critiqued for doing more to advertise a person’s self-righteousness than actually address any problems.

Thinking about whether an action of yours might fall into performative allyship is not just important to the cause you support, but also to yourself. After all, if an action you’re thinking of is not actually going to do anything to benefit the cause you say you support, then, in all due honesty, why bother? Why waste your time doing something that does not support the cause you support in some tangible way? First and foremost, it’s important to make sure you actually help the cause you say you support, but you also want to make sure that you make good use of your time—something that would not be the case if you’re using your time with performative allyship.

Ultimately, performative allyship is unhelpful for both you and the cause you support. Instead, try to aim for what I might call supportive allyship—allyship that brings tangible benefits to the cause you support, regardless of whether there are any benefits for you.

The Outstanding Blogger Award!

So I found out recently that I’ve been nominated for another blogging award! This time, I was nominated by the blog Living Everyday for an Outstanding Blogger Award! Being nominated is an honor.

These are the rules for the award:

  1. Provide the link to the creator’s original award post.
  2. Answer the questions provided.
  3. Create 7 unique questions.
  4. Nominate 10 bloggers. Ensure that they are aware of their nomination. Neither the award’s creator, nor the blogger that nominated you, can be nominated.
  5. At the end of 2020, every blog that ping-backs the creator’s original post will be entered to win the 2020 Outstanding Blogger Award!

Here were the questions I got (with my answers in bold):

  1. What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic? I learned that I can be a quicker learner than I often give myself credit for. In just two months or so, I went from knowing nothing about Zoom to giving Zoom tutorials. Wild stuff.
  2. Where is your favorite place to vacation? I’m not a huge vacationer myself, but a vacation to anything historical or cultural is up my alley.
  3. What is your favorite season? Spring. It’s the time of year when the weather is getting warmer (but it’s usually not too hot) and the days are getting longer.
  4. Why did you start blogging and is it the same reason you continue? Honestly, I just wanted to talk about injustices that I and others may be blind to and/or blindly commit. Even though my blog has done other things, such as my COVID update posts and now some blog advice posts, that is the main reason why I continue blogging.
  5. Do you come from a large family? Not particularly. I only have one brother.
  6. What was your best (maybe not favorite) subject in high school? History was my best and my favorite subject in high school.
  7. Which would you rather read, fiction or non-fiction? I have a preference for non-fiction, but I would not turn down a good historical fiction book!

Here are the bloggers I’m nominating, in no particular order:

  1. Whispers of a Womanist
  2. Wheel Life Friends
  3. Indigenous Woman
  4. Food.for.Thoughts
  5. Radical Nurses
  6. Savvy + Sustainable
  7. Invisibly Me
  8. POC Stories
  9. Love Is Stronger
  10. Robby Robin’s Journey

Here are my questions for my award nominees:

  1. What have you learned about yourself during COVID? (I know, same question as one of the ones I was given, but I think it’s a good one.)
  2. What is an interest of yours you don’t think your readers are aware of?
  3. Has the focus of your blog changed over time? If so, how?
  4. Why did you decide to blog on the topic(s) you blog on?
  5. Are there any sports you are into? If so, which sports are you into, and which people or teams do you root for?
  6. What is a place you haven’t visited yet that you would like to visit?
  7. What is the best place you’ve been to? Why?

The Importance of Crisis Management from a United States President

When we go to vote in November, many of us will vote based on how much we agree with the principles of a particular candidate. Some of us may even decide to vote for a candidate because of a single issue a candidate has a particular stance on (something I strongly advise against because a president will have to deal with not one issue, but many issues). But my guess is that not as many of us will vote for a president based on how well or poorly someone has managed, or would manage, crises. And that should change.

One of the certainties of a sitting president is that the president will need to confront crises. If you’re not convinced of that, look at this list of recent presidents and the incomplete group of crises they each had to confront:

  • Donald Trump: COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Maria in 2017, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017
  • Barack Obama: Superstorm Sandy in 2012, numerous mass shootings (Pulse, Aurora, and Charleston, to name three), and the Great Recession
  • George W. Bush: The Great Recession, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and 9/11
  • Bill Clinton: Columbine shooting in 1999, Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and Northridge, California earthquake in 1994
  • George H.W. Bush: Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Savings and Loan crisis, and Bay Area Earthquake in 1989
  • Ronald Reagan: Challenger rocket disaster in 1986 and Hurricane Alicia in 1983

And these are only the recent presidents. Going further back in history, presidencies were viewed as among the greatest or among the worst, in large part because of how those presidents handled crises. For example, Abraham Lincoln is considered among the all-time great presidents in large part due to his successful handling of the Civil War, while his predecessor, James Buchannan, is widely regarded as the worst because of his inaction as states seceded from the Union. Herbert Hoover is consistently ranked among the worst presidents due to his relative inaction when the Great Depression started, while his successor Franklin D. Roosevelt is widely regarded as among the greatest because so many thought that he responded to the Depression and World War II in a way that America became arguably the world’s strongest economic power for decades to come. A president’s response to a crisis can define a presidency, and sometimes even the course of the country for decades.

I’m not saying that one has to completely ignore the principles and positions taken up by the candidates. To the contrary, looking at principles and positions is an important part of figuring out who you want in the White House. However, figuring out how well a candidate would handle a crisis if elected is vastly underrated.

Barriers to Evacuating From a Weather Disaster

Before every hurricane, we hear elected officials to tell people to “get out of harm’s way.” They say that “if you don’t leave, you are putting your own life at risk.” Or even more dire—I’ve heard elected officials say that “death is certain” if you don’t evacuate. People in parts of Louisiana and Texas heard all of this as Hurricane Laura was approaching last week.

Now don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the strong language. I think that when a major hurricane is heading straight at you, particularly if you’re in an area vulnerable to storm surge from the hurricane, you need to evacuate, if at all possible.

However, I beg people, including any government officials, to take notice of that final clause in my previous sentence: if at all possible.

I say that because, for some people, evacuating is not possible. And the results of this are catastrophic, even deadly.

But how could this be the case, when governments like to give a face of taking these storms seriously? Well…here are just a few major barriers to evacuating from a weather disaster:

Not enough shelters are pet-friendly.

A Reuters article some time ago put it best—pet owners often think of their pets first when natural disasters strike.[1] Now some of that is because people are that emotionally attached to their pets (and that is valid), but we also have to keep in mind that, in some cases, people literally can’t function without their pets. From people who rely on animals as a form of therapy for physical and/or mental health issues, to blind individuals who rely on guide dogs to get them around, there is a whole population of people who can’t function without their pets. Therefore, it is unacceptable for governments to either be short on shelters (as was the case with Florida before Hurricane Irma in 2017, according to the aforementioned Reuters article) or lack pet-friendly shelters in the first place (as was the case with South Carolina with Hurricane Florence a few years ago[2]). If governments want people to evacuate, they need to have evacuation shelters that allow people to be with their pets, for both people who are attached to their pets and for people who can’t function without pets.

Governments also do not provide adequate transportation for people with disabilities.

I was only eleven years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, but one of the things I remember from Katrina was how the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana did not adequately provide transportation for the disabled to get to a safe place. Depending on the disability, one may not be able to get to higher ground on their own; therefore, there needs to be help. With Hurricane Katrina, government didn’t help adequately, and the death toll was probably much higher than it should’ve been because of that lack of help.

I will end this section with a quote from a report issued by the National Council on Disability in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005: “For example, during the Katrina evacuation, many people with disabilities could not evacuate because to do so would require them to abandon support services and personnel. Moreover, since emergency transportation and shelters could not care for them, many people with disabilities were forced to stay behind.”[3]

Employee rights are inadequate.

How inadequate are employee rights? So inadequate that people can, and have, been fired because of evacuating from hurricanes. For example, a woman in North Carolina claimed that she was fired for not showing up to work after losing power during Hurricane Florence in 2018—that’s very possible because North Carolina is what’s called an “at-will employment state,” or a state where “private-sector employees can be fired for any reason – or no reason at all.”[4] There were also stories galore before, during, and after Hurricane Irma asking whether an employee can be fired for fleeing from the hurricane (by the way, the consensus answer was “yes”). Until governments have better protections keeping people from being fired for not showing up to work during or immediately after a hurricane as part of an evacuation plan, people will hesitate to evacuate for fear of missing work and being fired.


When a disaster such as a hurricane is on the way, the barriers to evacuating should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. However, that does not happen, and that likely results in preventable deaths.

Please note that I will not publish a post next Monday, as next Monday is Labor Day.


[1] This article talked about how, even for those who need companion animals, pet-friendly shelters were difficult to find: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-elderly-evacuation-pets/florida-needs-more-pet-friendly-hurricane-shelters-for-the-elderly-idUSKBN1CM2Q4

[2] https://weather.com/safety/hurricane/news/2018-09-11-where-to-take-pets-south-carolina-shelters

[3] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496270.pdf

[4] https://www.nbc26.com/news/national/employers-can-fire-employees-who-evacuated-for-hurricane-in-north-carolina