LA approves funding for mobile bathroom program amid concerns about Hepatitis A

Apr 9, 2018

By ELIZABETH CHOU | | Daily News

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved four new restrooms, aiming to stem the growth of Hepatitis among the homeless. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

PUBLISHED: December 12, 2017 at 7:02 pm | UPDATED: December 12, 2017 at 9:49 pm

The Los Angeles City Council vote Tuesday to move forward with an experimental six-month program to station four mobile restrooms around the city in an effort to stem Hepatitis A cases among the homeless population.

City leaders will test out the program, which is modeled after a San Francisco one known as “mobile pit stop,” at four “high-priority” sites: Venice, Wilmington, South Park and the southeast portion of downtown Los Angeles.

The mobile restroom and hand-washing program is part of a larger, emergency effort to increase access to bathroom and hygiene facilities for the city’s homeless population, after outbreaks of Hepatitis A were declared in Los Angeles County, San Diego and Santa Cruz.

As of early December, there have been 15 confirmed Hepatitis A cases in Los Angeles County among the homeless population or those using illicit drugs, many linked to other counties. San Diego, which declared an outbreak in September, recorded at least 544 confirmed cases and 20 deaths. And in Santa Cruz, there have been 74 confirmed cases since April.

Under the mobile-restroom program approved by the City Council, each of the four priority areas will get a trailer with one restroom and a sink. The mobile station will also have an outdoor sink, and be monitored by an attendant. The hours and exact locations for each of the sites are still being worked out, city officials said.

The four sites were chosen from a list of six areas that was determined to have a significant homeless population and the greatest need for public hygiene facilities, based on county data.

The final four sites that city leaders settled on were ones in which the council offices for those areas indicated were “ready to go,” according to Ashley Thomas, a spokeswoman for Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, chair of the homelessness and poverty committee.

Sun Valley, a community in the San Fernando Valley, was ranked fourth among those with the greatest need for hygiene facilities, but it did not included in the program.

Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who represents a district that includes Sun Valley, said in a statement that she is not quite sold on the program.

“The mobile pit stop program is a pilot project; there are still questions about how it will work and what the results will be,” she said. “We would have liked to have had the opportunity to share more information with Sun Valley residents before initiating this pilot.”

Meanwhile, the Venice area made the cut, but actually ranked sixth in need. Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the area, has been pushing to get more bathroom facilities in that area, and he authored the original motion calling for greater bathroom access in places like Venice.

Westchester, which is also in Bonin’s district, was also left out of the program, even though it was ranked the highest for need. City officials say conditions have changed at that location, since a homeless census was done there. Airport officials are preparing the area for the construction of a consolidated rental car facility serving Los Angeles International Airport, so much of the large homeless population that had been in that area, also know as Manchester Square, is not expected to remain there once work begins.

The $1.7 million in funds approved Tuesday by the council would pay for the mobile bathroom facilities and two other programs.

Part of the funding will also be used to hire attendants at two “automatic public toilets” in Skid Row, and one in Hollywood. The restroom kiosks, which often carry street advertisements, are under-utilized, according city officials. The attendants will be expected to clean the facilities between each use, and work to ensure that the toilets are not being misused, city officials said.

The remainder of the funding will cover enhanced services for an existing bathroom and shower program in Skid Row known as Operation Healthy Streets, such as cleanings between each use.

Even before the Hepatitis A outbreak, L.A. city and county leaders have worked to expand the availability and improve the conditions of public bathrooms, which have experienced heavier usage as homelessness has grown.

The city earlier this year set aside about $1.1 million in the current 2017-2018 budget to increase cleanings at 50 restrooms in the city’s parks system. The city in December also opened a 24-hour shower, laundry and restroom facility in Skid Row, called the ReFresh Spot. And more facilities on the way next year, with the city and county are expected to compete work on additional restroom facilities in Skid Row and in the El Pueblo de Los Angeles area in downtown Los Angeles.

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