architecture, community, drinking water, homeless, sanitation

Water and Toilets for Humans w/o Homes

On a recent trip to my hometown, I traveled two hours north to visit a close family member living on the streets. He is chronically homeless, and it deeply saddens me he is unable to accept housing assistance. Someone chronically homeless is an “individual with a disabling condition who has either been continually homeless for a year or more or who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past 3 years.” There were around 650 thousand people homeless one night and 1.59 million people spent one night in a shelter in 2010, and about 17 percent were chronically homeless. Reasons such as high unemployment and/or substance abuse problems contribute to homelessness, but people without homes still have basic human needs. Basic needs that include water for drinking and washing and toilets to pee and poop.

Before the trip, I gathered basic living provisions for Nate (pseud.): backpack , raincoat, shoes, water bottle, and soap. But I worried “where would he fill his water bottle?” and I wondered “where would he use his soap?” While buying him lunch, I gingerly asked if he ever uses shelters. He doesn’t. He echoed what numerous other people feel, “shelters are dirty, dangerous, and packed.” This older ethnographic report by Hill and Stamey found the same sentiment. Nate essentially has nowhere to get water, take a bath, or use the bathroom. I was distraught to probe further, and I didn’t want to insult his dignity. But I now wonder more than ever before. What are US communities doing to provide water and toilets for humans without homes?


Above Photo: Leroy Allen Skalstad on Wikimedia Commons

There are few water and toilet options for individuals experiencing homelessness. For water, folks may use a public drinking fountain [not always nearby], sinks in a public bathroom [not always nearby], drinking fountains at a shelter [often not open during daytime], sinks in a private bathroom [could be kicked out], or ponds and streams [possibly contaminated]. For toilets, folks may use a public toilet [not always nearby], a toilet in a shelter [often not open during daytime], a private toilet [could be kicked out], or go outside [could be arrested]. It’s a challenging situation for those on the streets. I didn’t tell him I noticed when we took him to lunch, but the first thing Nate did was use the restaurant bathroom.

US cities need to do a better job ensuring ample public drinking water, hand-washing, and toilet facilities for those experiencing homelessness. There are organizations and cities addressing the issue, but more research needs to be done to inventory, categorize, and prioritize options nationwide.

Here are a few brief examples. The I am Waters Foundation provides bottled water to shelters, missions, and community homeless organizations. Central Oregon Veterans Outreach gives 5-6 gallon containers to homeless camps and returns to fill them with water weekly. Some shelters such as this one in Arizona host bottled water drives during summer months. Portland built six innovative Portland Loos. Another organization in San Francisco is proposing similar small bathrooms except with toilets that separate solid from liquid wastes. Several cities like Grand Rapids and San Diego installed portable toilets in the past.

The handful of water and toilet projects listed above are steps in the right direction, but sadly few of these options are available in Nate’s town. In addition, some are short-term solutions to long-term problems. It gives me hope that one academic architecture program is realizing the importance of design for those without homes hosting a Rethinking Shelter event, but it’s up to all of us to better understand water and toilet options available for those without homes and to advocate for appropriate solutions. In conjunction with PHLUSH, we’ll compile more information on this issue in future posts.

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drinking water, floods, india, water availability

H20 Democracy Documentary: Writing on Water

This morning, I decided to watch a documentary called Writing on Water produced by the Transnational Institute. And, let me tell you, I’m sure glad that I did. This story provided uplifting, proactive, and capable solutions to the current world water crisis.

The film detailed the recent meeting of the Pan-Asian Water Colloquium – attended by engineers, water managers, economists, activists, policymakers, and academics from over 18 countries – as a venue to discuss the equitable and democratic management of water worldwide.

Participants at the meeting were able to see a model of democratic water management in-action as they visited various field sites managed by the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD). In 2004, TWAD passed the Maraimalai Nagar Decarlation that required consensus-based water management in many villages. It is now clear that this Declaration has been successful at encouraging the development of sustainable, equitable, and low-cost water systems in numerous villages.

For additional information, please check out the report from the Pan-Asian Water Colloquium available on the Water Justice website hosted by the Transnational Institute

Part 1The adverse effects of the privatization of water in various parts of the world becomes apparent as the delegates share their experiences.

Here are the links to other videos in the six-part documentary on You Tube.

Part 2 If the journey begins with the self; the transformation of the individual first; then can individual transformation become institutional transformation?

Part 3The myths propounded the international financial institutions on the trillion dollar requirement for meeting the Millennium Development Goals on Water are demolished.

Part 4The enabling tools of the process of transformation are discussed. “Koodam” as a concept of democratization is elaborated and how the voluntarism generated enthuses true community participation.

Part 5The main issues of the Water Debate are discussed threadbare by the delegates from various countries; reaching the conclusion that one cannot ignore working with the governments.

Part 6Inspired by the vision of a village community who have painted in the wall of a building, what they want the village to be in ten years time; the delegates each take a vow to fight for reclaiming public water and to work to spread the idea of the democratization of water management.

drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, outreach, water availability, water conflict, water events

Water Justice Movement Gearing up for the 5th World Water Forum

The water justice movement is gearing up for the 5th World Water Forum to be held during World Water Week from March 16th – 22nd in Istanbul, Turkey. They will host a Counter Forum during the event to educate people about the water justice movement, the problems with privatization of water supplies, and the importance of water as a human right.

peopleswaterforum

The Counter Forum will host the following events (from the Wash News International blog):

10-13 March: Water Tribunal – Four cases to be heard in a similar format to the Latin American Water Tribunal conducted during the 4th World Water Forum.
14-22 March: Global Week of Actions for Water Justice.
14 March: Demonstration in central Istanbul.
15 March: Demonstration in Kadikoy Square.
16 March: Official opening of the World Water Forum -activists organizing press conferences and protests against WWF.
17-18 March: Platform workshop event at TMMOB Taksim Square office.
17 March: Evening, Public Water Event organized by international activists – featuring UN representation and others – (unconfirmed).
19-20 March: Platform plenary events at MKM Congress Center.
19 March: Demonstration planned.
20-22 March: Campaign’s Alternative Water Forum – Bilgi University.
22 March: Closing of official WWF and World Water Day.
23 March: Solidarity delegation to Diyarbakir region of Turkey.

Please visit the Peoples Water Forum website for a list of updated events. Here is an excerpt from the Call to Action:

This 5th World Water Forum, as with the previous 4 World Water Forums, is being organized by the World Water Council, a body created and controlled by the global private water industry and which continues to promote water privatization, destructive dams, commodification and commercialization, projects and policies proven to harm people and communities; local food systems, livelihoods and indigenous resource base.

For more information on the water justice movement, check out this website created after the 4th World Water Forum in Mumbai or this webpage created by the Transnational Institute with a list of links and documents pertaining to water justice.