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LA's Skid Row gets new source of drinking water

A resident of Skid Row takes a drink from one of the neighborhood's new drinking fountains. The fountains were installed to keep the area's homeless population hydrated during high temperatures.
A resident of Skid Row takes a drink from one of the neighborhood's new drinking fountains. The fountains were installed to keep the area's homeless population hydrated during high temperatures.
Matt Bloom/KPCC

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As the weather's heating up, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has installed seven temporary public drinking fountains in L.A. County, aimed at keeping the most vulnerable Angelenos hydrated. 

Two of the fountains are on Skid Row, where access to drinking water is limited. Volunteers at missions pass out free water and public parks have drinking fountains, but those sources close in the afternoon.

The five other portable fountains are dispersed throughout the county to areas where homeless populations live. 

"The city should have done this a long time ago," said Wendell Blassingame, a local activist on Skid Row. He's volunteered on downtown's neighborhood council for years and said the demand for drinking water has always been high.

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Connie Llanos, a spokesperson for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the fountains were brought in in anticipation of heat waves this summer. Llanos said LADWP already owned the fountains, and agency workers installed them during their regular shifts, meaning they came at no cost to the city.

The drinking fountains are simple to hook up. A rubber hose connects a fire hydrant to a filtration system, which supplies the drinking fountain. 

Reviews of the fountains, however, are mixed. 

On a hot afternoon, Johnny Robinson, who lives on Skid Row, dipped his head to take a drink in the new fountain in San Julian Park and immediately recoiled. 

"It's not good! I don't think it is!" he says. "It's not cold, number one. Number two, it don't taste good —it tastes like old water pipes!"

Blassingame, however,  said he's proud that his community now has a new source of water.

Robinson could agree, still, that it was better than nothing. 

Series: Homelessness in California

On Wednesday, KPCC listeners and readers will find special coverage of homelessness in Los Angeles County. It’s part of a first-ever statewide media project aiming to focus the public and policymakers’ attention on how to solve that growing problem. 

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