SEATTLE – Seattle tech worker Mark Lloyd has become sort of a familiar face for homeless communities, filling a need so simple that most don’t even think twice about it.
Finding a place to go to the bathroom is a daily struggle for people experiencing homelessness, and one Lloyd is attempting to fill with popup tents complete with makeshift toilets inside.
“Imagine living out in the middle of a city in a place where there may not be very nice people and having to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. It’s pretty exposed,” Lloyd said. “Women, especially, are very happy with it. Gives them a sense of privacy.”
His kit, consisting of a small bucket, toilet seat, cat litter, toilet paper, sanitizer, plastic bags and a tent, is popping up in homeless encampments in Rainier Valley, Central District, and Beacon Hill. It’s also helping cut down on garbage in the area.
“I just started out being very curious of who these people were and then I got to know them,” Lloyd said. “If you get to know someone and their struggles, you find yourself committed.”
Lloyd has delivered between 60 and 100 toilet kits in the last three years, all on his own time and with his own money. He spends an average of $50 to $60 on supplies.
He meets some of his clientele at the Rainier Popup Kitchen, where he sets up chairs and tables to help feed 100 to 150 people every Sunday. But most of the time, he goes directly to the camps, striking up conversations and finding ways to help.
He’s taken a pregnant woman who was homeless to the hospital for prenatal care, connected an estranged father living on the streets with his daughter and driven others to drug treatment centers or shelters.
All were recipients of his toilet kits.
“We all say we don’t want people to be pooping outside or garbage pilling up, that’s a fair thing to say,” Lloyd said. “You’re going to have people poop regardless – they could either poop on the ground or into a bag in a bucket. Then that bag could be thrown into a larger bag with other garbage. That’s better than being on the ground.”
Compared to three years ago, the amount of garbage coming out of camps is much less – going from nearly 6.4 million pounds in 2017 to 711,920 pounds in 2019, according to the latest city data.
Seattle Public Utilities started a program that gives camps the opportunity to pick up their own trash. The city picks up the garbage once or twice a week at about 10 unsanctioned encampments.
Lloyd’s efforts are an extension of that. He passes out additional garbage bags and gloves as part of his kit. He routinely follows up on the people he’s helped.
He also provides safe needle disposal – knowing that some may very well see his efforts as a form of enabling.
“We are often sure of the rightness of our thinking, but if we want to really engage ourselves, things become much more complicated and we should embrace the contradictions as part of being truly engaged,” he said.
He hopes that forging a human connection and learning how to talk to people about drug treatment may help those in need of such services get clean.
“The situation that people are living in is so difficult and the problems of homelessness are so hard that it just takes a lot of work and [persistence],” Lloyd said. “But, I consider a lot of these people my friends.”