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Bill Roberts: Lack of home does not justify parks, alleys as toilets

It speaks well of Durango and La Plata County that people here recognize both the rights and the humanity of the homeless. But there are limits to everything. And it seems clear that if asked where the homeless camp should go, most people in Durango would now say it should go away.

Perhaps it is time for more of us to say that out loud.

That is the first thought that pops up when learning that a particular stretch of alley in downtown Durango is being referred to as an “outdoor toilet.” There is no need to name the block; nearby businesses do not need that association.

Nor will the photographs appear in The Durango Herald. But they do exist, and they are disgusting. Imagine images of human feces and even a sock apparently used in lieu of toilet paper. The photographer’s account of the smell is equally revolting.

So, why are we putting up with this? There is nothing in the Constitution that says people have a right to move their bowels on the street. Why let them?

One obvious question involves who would want to be squatting in an alley. But pondering that quickly devolves into sociological, even theological, questions beyond our ken. The real question is: What kind of town puts up with this?

Better yet, what kind of town allows its women to be confronted by men exposing themselves? There are growing accounts of men urinating in public. These are not tales of boys sneaking behind a bush to relieve themselves. These are episodes in which grown men – in broad daylight – have opened their fly, pulled out the obvious body part and urinated in a public park.

Such behavior has reportedly been conducted openly, with no attempt at privacy and involved eye contact with women passing by. That is not a basic bodily function. That borders on assault. Why put up with that?

Some argue that what is needed are public restrooms, Porta-Potties or the like. Others insist that Durango has already gone too far toward “if you build it, they will come” and that accommodating life on the street will just make matters worse.

That is a discussion worth having. But it is not a conversation we are likely to have absent civilization.

Thanks largely to cable television, this country is often portrayed as divided. We have fundamentalists and fascists, libertarians and libertines, along with every other conceivable ideology. But go to the grocery store or out to dinner, drive down the street or stop at the post office. People know how to behave, and most do so well and willingly. In fact, most of us get the basics of how to act in public at a young age.

That some do not is simply a fact of life. It is not, however, something we need to accept. We talk about homelessness, mental illness or substance abuse, but the real issue is behavior. And we know how to address that, if only we insist upon it.