A New Type of Visitor
It has been an interesting start to our week at PFAC. We are closed on Mondays, so Tuesday is our Monday here. We find we have a routine visitor to PFAC. This visitor typically shows up as we begin to open to the public around 10 a.m. A visitor that is becoming a familiar face, is generally something we celebrate. For a long time, we thought he was a walker on the Noland Trail.
However, this visitor comes to PFAC to bathe. We have caught him a few times with shirt off, soap covering his body, and washing with a paper towel. So, yes, we suspect he is homeless. We have not asked him. We just say, “Welcome to PFAC. Can you give us your zip code?” We track our visitors’ zip codes for grant purposes. Each time, he smiles, waves, and heads to our restroom.
But, as a compassionate person, I cannot help but wonder, what does removing barriers of accessibility to PFAC really mean? It is not uncommon for walkers on the Noland Trail to use our open, safe, and free bathrooms. PFAC offers the only free restrooms in the Mariner’s Museum Park. So, it is not unusual on days of sunshine and moderate temperatures for us to see 20 plus visitors just seeking the water fountain and the restroom.
However, it is very unusual for us to find people washing their body in our restrooms. Our cleaners have been getting upset because they go in to find a messy restroom that they had just 15 minutes before cleaned in order to get ready for the day’s visitors. Our visitor services team is not entirely convinced this is the impression we want to give our museum tour groups, who visit very often at the 10 o’clock time slot.
Where would you go if you were homeless? Would it be your local art museum? I face questions each day, that need my attention as the Executive Director, but I never thought I would be asking myself these questions. As the Director, I take my responsibility of a professional, safe, welcoming, and clean facility seriously. But, these questions present a conundrum.
I am not sure what this means for our community. It is an increase in homelessness, a migration from other parts of the city or just because the shelter has shut down until winter returns? I am not sure.
I understand the concerns of my staff and patrons about a possible homeless person bathing in our bathroom sinks at PFAC. But, this really points to a big community issue. Sure, it impacts our art museum, but at the end of the day, it impacts us all. And it is heartbreaking.
So for now, I think we will just react with “Welcome to PFAC. Can you give us your zip code? We track them for grant purposes.”