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The Cold Hard Cost of Inadequate Toilet Access

Last month, we talked about the personal consequences of inadequate toilet access, including having to plan when you eat or drink and the medical consequences that can come from dehydration and bowel obstructions if you don’t drink or relieve yourself. Many people have to plan when to eat or drink because they can only use the toilet when a business they work or shop at is open.

However, if you’re relying on a business to provide your toilet access, that means you’re expected to pay for access to their toilet. This could be in the form of admission to a fitness center or swimming pool, or it could be in exchange for buying something for sale. Even a $1 candy bar will add up if you have to buy one every time you need to use the bathroom.

Think about it: how many times a day do you use a toilet? 5? 7? 10? Now, multiply that by the cheapest thing you can find the next time you go into a store.

You could spend the equivalent of a meal out to eat each day just to go to the bathroom.

That adds up quickly, especially if you don’t have the money for that meal to begin with.

This mismatch between what we perceive as a cheap, accessible service and what it actually costs compounds at the community level. It’s actually cheaper to provide an unsheltered person with permanent, sustainable housing than it is to provide all the other services that are necessary to support someone who is unsheltered. Emergency services, medical treatment, incarceration, and the cost of running homeless shelters, especially emergency shelters, add up to the point where homelessness is surprisingly costly for taxpayers - some of whom are also unhoused - and cities.

In 2021, Denver spent over twice as much providing services for each person experiencing homelessness as it would have cost to rent them a one-bedroom apartment.

This is not an argument against providing those services; instead, it is a shocking depiction of how large the cost of inadequate toilet access as a byproduct of homelessness can be. Having reliable access to a clean, safe toilet is something most of us can take for granted. When we pause to add up the cost of that toilet access, the results are shocking.

What would you do if you had to pay each time you needed to use the bathroom? How much would you be willing to pay?

If you're able, donating to Toilet Equity helps provide better toilet access for someone who can't afford it themselves.

This article originally appeared in our May 2024 newsletter.

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