The public toi­let short­age

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Faced with an ap­palling short­age of public toi­lets in the Skid Row area, Los An­ge­les city of­fi­cials promised in July to put up 10 more toi­lets by mid-Septem­ber. Time’s up, but the toi­lets are not — at least not yet. City of­fi­cials say they will un­veil within a month a mo­bile “hy­giene cen­ter” in the midst of Skid Row on a city-owned park­ing lot, of­fer­ing toi­lets, hand-wash­ing sta­tions, show­ers, and half a dozen stacked wash­ers and dry­ers for laun­dry. There will be se­cu­rity per­son­nel as well as formerly home­less peo­ple work­ing at the site, along with out­reach work­ers who can steer peo­ple to hous­ing and ser­vices. So, if down­town home­less peo­ple can hold it for a month, they’ll get 10 toi­lets and more.

It may sound like the city is cre­at­ing an elab­o­rate toi­let theme park when a bunch of port-a-pot­ties would do. But sim­ply plant­ing a port-a-potty on a dark street cor­ner can cre­ate more prob­lems, be­com­ing a mag­net for preda­tors and drug users. Toi­lets need a cer­tain amount of se­cu­rity as well as con­stant clean­ing. The model of a clus­ter of toi­lets with sinks has been suc­cess­ful in other cities.

A bath­room is not just an amenity, it is a ne­ces­sity — and with 34,000 home­less peo­ple in Los An­ge­les, more are des­per­ately needed, not just down­town but in other ar­eas of the city that have high con­cen­tra­tions of home­less peo­ple. Mean­while, re­strooms in some parks — par­tic­u­larly in Venice near the beach — need to stay open around the clock, not the eight hours per day planned by the city.

Of­fi­cials who de­signed the Skid Row hy­giene cen­ter say they can get the next ones up faster. Good. We shouldn’t have to re­mind the city that go­ing to the bath­room is an ur­gent need. Part of the prob­lem is find­ing lots on which to place the trail­ers that house the mo­bile fa­cil­i­ties. Any­one who has a park­ing lot to of­fer should call the city.

Not hav­ing enough toi­lets and san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties is the pre­cur­sor to a public health cri­sis. Wit­ness what’s been hap­pen­ing in San Diego, where an out­break of hep­ati­tis A —a disease that spreads when peo­ple fail to wash their hands af­ter go­ing to the bath­room — has left 16 peo­ple dead and nearly 300 hos­pi­tal­ized. More than half the af­flicted are home­less peo­ple. Now the city is scram­bling to erect in­dus­trial tents with beds and hy­giene fa­cil­i­ties. In Ana­heim, city of­fi­cials cal­cu­lated that tak­ing away a few port-a-pot­ties along the Santa Ana river would re­duce the num­ber of home­less peo­ple camped there. It has not.

You don’t make home­less peo­ple van­ish by re­fus­ing to pro­vide toi­lets. You just end up with un­san­i­tary con­di­tions for ev­ery­one.

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