The city of Los Angeles will launch a pilot program bringing mobile restrooms for the homeless to four sites across Los Angeles.
The L.A. City Council approved the move Tuesday along with shifts in funding that will allow the city to continue operating some existing restrooms for homeless. The pilot will place a mobile restroom —meaning toilets, sinks, and showers — in Wilmington, Venice, downtown Los Angeles, and South Park.
"People end up having to go on the streets," said City Councilman Mike Bonin, who pushed for the mobile units. "So kids walking to school would see feces in the alleyway near their house. And it's just unacceptable for everyone."
In Venice, which falls in Bonin's district, there are public restrooms on the beach, but they close at night. Typically, he said, stores and restaurants don't allow anyone but customers to use their facilities.
Bonin said there's also a plan in the works that will keep some of the beach restrooms open overnight, starting in the next few months.
The mobile units will have varying hours, depending on community needs. The exact locations within the targeted neighborhoods have yet to be determined. The restrooms will be removed when not in use and cleaned. They will also have staff on site, which Bonin said would keep the restrooms from becoming nuisances or crime magnets.
The pilot is scheduled to last six months and then could be expanded, if the city provides additional funds.
"We need to do a lot more than this," Bonin said. "I wish the city had done this a long time ago."
The city's move was largely motivated by recent cases of hepatitis A, a disease caused by a virus spread through fecal matter.
San Diego has seen a large outbreak of the disease, particularly in the city's homeless population. L.A. County declared a hepatitis A outbreak in September. Since then, the county Department of Public Health has counted 34 cases, 15 of them homeless people.
Proper hand-washing and sanitation can prevent the spread of hepatitis A. There is a vaccine and the county has issued recommendations for those who should get vaccinated. At the moment, that group includes homeless people, men who have sex with men, people who use illicit drugs, and people who work with the homeless.