RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The homeless population is growing in many American cities, and unfortunately, that also means waste is growing; that has places like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago trying to face new public health challenges. One tech worker in Seattle is trying to bring sanitation and dignity to the outdoor homeless camps in that city. Here's Gabriel Spitzer of member station KNKX.
GABRIEL SPITZER, BYLINE: Mark Lloyd is here to talk toilets.
MARK LLOYD: What we have here is a bucket, and it's got some litter, some toilet paper, some hand sanitizer, some wipes. And then we have a tent, and in the tent, we have a seat that goes on the toilet.
SPITZER: Lloyd's a project manager at a tech company, but off the clock, he assembles these basic bucket and kitty litter setups and just gives them away.
LLOYD: I'm here with your toilet.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Awesome.
SPITZER: Lloyd's been doing this for about three years. Today we're at a cluster of 10 tents near a highway ramp east of downtown Seattle.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Here I am, Mark.
LLOYD: All right.
SPITZER: We meet this woman in a cream-colored fleece and a plaid hair wrap. She's homeless, and to protect her privacy and safety, she asked us not to use her name.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK, awesome. Yeah, can we set it up back here?
LLOYD: Yeah, it's...
SPITZER: It's up to residents to dispose of the waste once the bucket gets full, but Lloyd provides the full starter kit.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do you do that out of your own pocket, or...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Wow. That's actually amazing.
SPITZER: When Lloyd first saw homeless camps spreading through his Seattle neighborhood, his impulse was to wade in, meet the people and find out what they need.
LLOYD: In many ways, we're a very prosperous city, but we have people living in tents, in camps that have really no working sanitation.
SPITZER: For Mark Lloyd, the toilets are really a means to an end.
LLOYD: I feel the most value when I've been able to sort of help someone out who I've gotten to know - taking someone to the hospital, talking to them about getting them maybe into drug treatment, connecting with people that I know in the city to get them into housing.
SPITZER: So we just walked down the on-ramp toward I-90. Then we hopped up over a little concrete wall.
At a neighboring homeless camp, Lloyd is bringing Megan Besgrove a replacement toilet and a container for used needles.
LLOYD: So how are you doing?
MEGAN BESGROVE: I'm all right.
LLOYD: I brought you your toilet.
BESGROVE: Cool. Awesome. It makes a huge difference because without that we're, like, having to squat in the bushes, but with these things there's, like, privacy. And I know that I've had, like, way less UTIs and stuff like that because of it. And...
SPITZER: So you've noticed that you yourself have been healthier because of this?
BESGROVE: Yeah. Yeah, definitely healthier.
LLOYD: I get a lot out of coming up with problems that other people are not trying to solve or look at approaches that other people are not having.
SPITZER: Lloyd knows that, to some, it looks like what he's doing is enabling.
LLOYD: I'm quite happy to accept that, and I try to own that, and I always feel like I have to do enough that, any of that, I'm sort of counterbalancing. You know, I have a saying that is, if you have moral clarity, you aren't in deep enough.
SPITZER: Lloyd says getting in deep, starting with the basics and then forging a human connection, can pay off; for example, one elderly man who had been living outside.
LLOYD: And I had got him a toilet, and I had got to know him over the years. He's quite a character.
SPITZER: The man's health was failing, and he was hospitalized. With no family in the picture, Mark Lloyd would go visit him.
LLOYD: And said, you know, well, can I at least try to get in touch with your daughter?
SPITZER: The guy had been estranged from his daughter for a long time, but he let Lloyd call her.
LLOYD: And I was sitting there with my phone, with one of these, you know, video chats of them talking for the first time in years, and they ended up getting together. And he still can be a challenging person, but he's reconciled with his daughter.
SPITZER: Lloyd says this only happened because he'd gotten to know this man, a connection that, in this case and many others, started with a toilet.
For NPR News, I'm Gabriel Spitzer in Seattle.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAMU THE FUDGEMUNK'S "WALK IN THE PARK")
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