Justice, Toilets and Bill Cunningham

By Lynne Ausman

This article is in response to Bill Cunningham’s broadcast available here.

Let the entire hour load and fast forward to the end. (don’t waste your time with the first 50 minutes of his show).

Bill Cunningham with his look-alike doll.

Bill Cunningham with his look-alike doll.

I think it’s safe to say that I grew up listening to Bill Cunningham. He has been a household name in the home I grew up in since before I was born.

I distinctly remember family vacations – listening to WLW (700 AM) the entire way. WLW has one of the strongest broadcasts: At night when many regional stations go off air, WLW would come in clear all the way to Florida. This was before iPods, so I always made sure I had enough batteries to keep my personal CD player running for the entire trip. Luckily, my dad was not completely without mercy. By the time we hit Tennessee, my brother and I could usually talk him into listening to the Beatles, Elton John or Billy Joel. To this day they are three of my favorite singers/songwriters: After all, they saved me from AM Talk Radio on more than one occasion.

Today, I tuned into WLW via its online podcasts. I never thought the day would come when I willingly sat down to listen to Cunningham, but alas that day has come. I was joining my parents for dinner; and when I walked in the door, my mom quickly told me that the neighbor had heard Cunningham talking about the Homeless Coalition on the radio. It’s happened before, but today I felt the need to tune in.

To my surprise I was mentioned by a caller who apparently wrote me a letter. I haven’t received this letter yet, but I look forward to it. The caller suggested that the coalition put port-a-potties at the Hamilton County Courthouse for the people sleeping outside there. She stated that the portable toilets are free.

Frustrated with the lack of public restrooms for homeless people, the coalition has looked at purchasing a port-a-potty. They aren’t free, by the way. They cost about $85 per month. I plan to tell her that and the following:

The only available public restrooms downtown close at 7 p.m. The bathrooms at Washington Park are closed during the winter and they close at dusk in the warmer months. Restrooms at homeless shelters are only open to shelter residents most of the time – and shelters are at capacity.

So the issue of answering nature’s call after dark is more than a problem of respect. People do not want to take care of that sort of business in public. Who would? Taking a crap in an alley is potentially the most degrading and humiliating thing someone would have to go through. Have you ever used a bedpan? That’s as close as I ever want to come to shitting in the street.

Some homeless people urinate outside the courthouse at night. Cunningham calls it “peeing on the symbol of justice.” What justice?

Is it just that my neighbor’s dog shits in my yard everyday and my neighbor doesn’t pick it up because he assumes that, because I have dogs, I won’t mind?

Is it just that businesses slam their doors in the face of people looking for an appropriate place to pee?

Is it just that we turn the very activities that one must engage in to survive (sleeping, peeing, eating) into crimes?

Is it just that we no longer open our doors to strangers looking for a meal?

Is it just that we treat people who are sick and in need of care with disgust and disdain?

Is it just that we outsource our jobs overseas and stand idle when people have no work and no money?

Is it just that we are willing to allow people to pay their employees less than minimum wage?

Is it just that we would rather see someone on the streets than swallow our “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” mentality and give him/her/them a home?

Is it just that we as a society stand idle as people are forced from their homes and into the streets?

Frankly, we have bigger problems to worry about than people peeing and pooping near the courthouse.

When we have enough affordable housing and permanent supportive housing to meet the need.

When we have enough living wage employment available so no one is unwillingly unemployed.

When we have the ability to prevent homelessness.

When all of the children in our community have enough nutritionally balanced food to eat.

When schools have adequate funding and resources to educate their students.

When all students finish high school.

When everyone has access to higher education.

When all couples (gay or straight) are free to be together without ridicule or judgment.

When there are no dogs or cats living without a loving family and home.

When the neighbor’s yard is mowed.

When my neighbor’s dog stops shitting in my yard.

When the mosquitoes no longer bite me as I’m enjoying the great outdoors.

I think you get my point.

When these bigger injustices are solved, I’ll worry about the fecal matter at the courthouse.

I know this probably isn’t the answer you were hoping for or expecting, but I hope it answers some questions.

But I’ll take this one step further. If you make a tax-deductible donation to the Homeless Coalition of $85 per month, we’ll find a place to put a porta-potty.

And by the way, my name is pronounced “Lynn” – you know, like Lynne Cheney. That’s a name you recognize, right?