“The Code is 8700.”

keypad

[Photo Credit: Amanda Shi & Monica Shi]

I was traveling out of state a few weeks ago, and it gave me the good occasion to meet a close friend for breakfast. I arrived a bit early, so I decided to use the restroom first.

To do this, I walked toward the ordering counter. Then, I barely turned my body left to follow the signs toward the restroom, and an employee instantly spoke up. “The code is 8700,” she said. Somehow, in that tiny turn of my body, she already knew I was going to the restroom rather than walking forward to order, and she told me immediately how to crack the code.

I recognized there was a tremendous amount of privilege in this exchange. Before I even ordered, this employee assumed I would be a paying customer. She granted me the privilege to use the restroom in that establishment even before I requested the code.

I would be a paying customer in a matter of minutes, but in a split second, as we frequently do, she had made a lot of quick assumptions. It was hospitable for her to give me that code, and I appreciated her doing it. But in one quick glance, I was a future paying customer and not the kind of person these keypad locks aim to keep out.

That is, I’m not a person in the throes of homelessness. I am not displaced or transient. I am not considered to be poor, nor am I associated with any stereotype that conveys, “This person just wants a handout,” like a free restroom.

I can understand a business wanting to limit their restroom usage to paying customers. But at the same time, this had me thinking about my privilege and how difficult these realities must be for people without shelter. In such situations, one must find creative and free solutions to meet basic, bodily needs, while simultaneously maneuvering social situations that are potentially stigmatizing and unwelcoming.

Love Wins Ministries is a community of presence and pastoral care in Raleigh, North Carolina for those who are experiencing homelessness. Hugh Hollowell, founder of this ministry, says something beautiful and eye-opening about homelessness: “The opposite of homeless isn’t housed; it’s community.” When people have opportunities to belong in community relationships, they are less vulnerable to living on the streets. Without community connections and spaces of welcome, people are banished to live on the streets almost indefinitely.

One form of privilege becomes obvious when we can easily use a public restroom. Many of us are wealthy in relationships and forms of public access. How will we honor the humanity of those whose access we’ve impoverished, and how can we change that reality through intentional acts of welcome?

Renee Roederer

 

3 thoughts on ““The Code is 8700.”

  1. I appreciate this. Making a business (or church) restroom open to the public, especially in a neighborhood where lots of people are experiencing homelessness, requires the community to own that decision and to adjust its expectations of the bathroom. It’s going to require regular re-stocking, and it will cost more, because soap will disappear regularly. People are going to bathe in there, too, so it’s going to need cleaned up more frequently than usual. A business or organization has to plan for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your story reminds me of a recurring situation I faced when I was attending the Premier Homeless Church (Not its real name) here in Lubbock a few years ago as a regular member. It is a church that caters to the homeless particularly, but which is attended (and led by) professional ministers and college students as well. Having a Bible degree, and being one with a home and a job, I was viewed as a lay person alright, but more among the professionals than among the homeless.

    I took it upon myself to follow the advice of leadership and come to the church (as often as I could) “just to be” there with the folks we were reaching out to. I was forming relationships, sharing time, prayer, food, and fellowship with the humble masses quite frequently.

    And that’s when I kinda began to realize that the staff would frequently have power lunches with various charitable leaders from around town – often right at the church. Perhaps the Homeless Consortium or the United Way or the Red Cross and or any combination of these and church leaders from other denominations as well. And that all seemed pretty good until they threw out all the homeless and locked the doors so they could have their lunch meetings inside while the homeless were put out.

    It was always rather awkward when they would ask if I wanted to join. But I looked at all my brothers and sisters who just got put outside for the next two hours into either the heat or cold etc, and I always decided to embrace the temporary exile in solidarity with them instead.

    Eventually I was kicked out – for other reasons, but it seems this was a early symptom of those developments alright, and that was happening AT CHURCH – and not just any church, but THE church devoted most to serving exactly those people!

    Go figure.

    Anyway, I sense my experience and yours share some deep vibes.

    Thanx for posting this. I really don’t think people consider this stuff too often, and I am really happy to see it explicated somewhere! It blesses me.

    Agent X
    Fat Beggars School of Prophets
    Lubbock, Texas (USA)

    Like

    1. Wow, what a story. And yes, it’s sad to see that the very church with this vision/mission began to have such obvious moments of exclusion.

      Deep within ourselves, I suppose we all have these spaces and lines which we draw, lines which become hypocritical in comparison to our words and convictions. But it’s especially sad when those lines become collective in a community and don’t really get questioned.

      And in my experience, the one who questions and challenges (in this case you) can easily become ousted or scapegoated. And that’s so hard.

      I’m glad you spoke up!

      Like

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