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Should it Take a Pandemic to Know We Need Hand Washing Stations?

Jul 7, 2020

As I walked home from the supermarket yesterday, I noticed a handwashing station at 8th and South Street. These handwashing stations have been installed as a public health measure to prevent the spread of COVID for people experiencing homelessness. I couldn’t help but wonder, why did it take a pandemic to get these installed? Handwashing we know is ALWAYS a good public health practice, especially during flu season. So, why did we wait until now? I can’t help but think it’s because we don’t want to have these under “normal” circumstances for people who are experiencing homelessness. 

There seems to be a fear among public officials in Philadelphia that if we make things easier for people who are experiencing homelessness, we will somehow make this a desirable “choice” of living. The fact is, homelessness in Philadelphia is a solvable issue. We know we need more affordable housing and effective behavioral health care, including opioid treatment. These are the issues we need to be focusing on, not whether access to handwashing can make living on the street a desirable choice. I assure you, if you had public access to a bathroom, you would not give up your home.

 Further, can’t we all benefit from access to handwashing? I know when I’m walking and finish eating an apple, I’d love to wash my hands. Or, when my kids are playing at a playground and spill their snack or decide to touch a suspicious substance, it would be nice if they could wash their hands. Similar to the curb cut, good public policy can benefit everyone. 

 We should use this moment in time to learn how we should do things in general. Let’s make the handwashing stations permanent and while we’re at it, let’s add access to restrooms and showers for all people to benefit from.  

Mural Arts and the Broad Street Ministry partnered to install murals with hand washing stations around the city. Symone Salib created the one at 8th and South Streets. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)