comscore Lee Cataluna: Public restrooms critical for some | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna: Public restrooms critical for some

Staying home during this health emergency is hard. It is especially hard on those who don’t have a home.

There are homeless tents along city parks, homeless enclaves under bridges and overpasses, and the downtown homeless who wander the streets, sleep in doorways and pee in stairwells. There are formerly homeless who are now in shelters or organized tent communities, safe for now, or at least safer than on the streets. And then there are those who live in their cars — we used to call them the “hidden homeless,” but we don’t talk about them much anymore because the problems of the unhidden homeless have gotten so bad. The hidden homeless tend to take care of themselves, maybe hold down jobs, keep a routine.

Cindy and her husband sleep in their car. At night they have permission to park on private land, but first, they go to a beach park on the west side to take a shower and brush their teeth. They use the outside “surfer showers” to clean up and use the park bathrooms. When the city announced March 18 that all park comfort stations would be closed as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, they and other people who rely on the park bathrooms were cut off from a basic need.

“Without the park comfort stations, the only place on the whole west side where people could use the bathroom was Tamura’s Supermarket,” she said. “The restaurants that are still open won’t let you use their restrooms.”

This is a tough time to argue that someone should check into a homeless shelter, where the luxury of social distancing doesn’t exist. It’s also a tough time to tell people they can’t use the facilities they’ve been relying on every day. But nobody has been through a situation like this before, so there are bound to be best guesses that turn out to be bad moves and good intentions with unintended negative consequences. We’ve seen local government announce orders before all the details are worked out or thought through. We’ve heard pronouncements that had to be walked back or amended. To some extent, that’s to be expected. These are strange days with no true precedent to follow.

The order closing park bathrooms was reversed last week, and by Friday, stand-alone comfort stations in city parks were opened again, in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control for homeless populations during the COVID-19 emergency.

But now there’s a new complication. People can use the park bathrooms, but they can’t park their vehicle in the parking lot while they’re using the facilities.

Cindy and her husband went to Makaha Beach for their usual evening routine but were told that police had been citing people for parking there. They went on to Maili beach, where she says a police officer let them use the facilities but warned that if they weren’t gone when he came back, they would be cited because the park was closed. She’s not trying to break rules; she just needs to use the facility.

“It’s really getting critical,” she said.


Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or lcataluna@staradvertiser.com.


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