After months of bureaucratic red tape, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the placement of portable toilets and handwashing stations in Venice Beach to primarily serve the area’s homeless population, the LA Times reports.
It’s the latest move in ongoing efforts by the city of Los Angeles to provide bathroom access — among other urgently needed services — to people experiencing homelessness in neighborhoods like Venice and Skid Row, home to one of the nation’s largest chronically homeless populations. The city’s efforts have been hamstrung by the need to get approvals from other agencies, the Times reported in a separate article. A December unveiling of temporary RefreshSpot trailers, the first new public toilets on Skid Row in a decade, was seen as a “possible turning point for the homeless enclave,” the paper reported, but three months later, the trailers shut down and never reappeared.
The Times wrote:
The slow and faltering bathroom rollouts raise questions about whether logistical problems and red tape are contributing to Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that have started to flow for new programs.
“If we can’t get something as simple as mobile restrooms up and running, that doesn’t give me a lot of faith the city can produce the leadership needed to produce housing units,” said Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a skid row anti-poverty group.
The new county motion instructs the Department of Beaches and Harbors to allow the placement of two overnight restrooms at the Rose Avenue beach parking lot in Venice. The facilities could open by the end of the month and will remain in place up to a year. Attendants will monitor the restrooms and remove them every morning so that the public can park; separately, the Times reports, the nonprofit Lava Mae will park a trailer with toilets and showers in the lot for daytime use.
The board of supervisors also approved a program designating two new parking lots in Hollywood and North Hollywood as “safe parking” sites for people living in their cars, with the nonprofit Safe Parking LA providing security and programming. Safe Parking LA already operates multiple safe parking sites in the city; this motion would create two more, providing a total of 20 vehicle spaces. It’s estimated that 16,000 people live in 8,500 cars across the county.
Meanwhile, the city is moving to locate services for people experiencing homelessness elsewhere in town as well. As Next City reported in April, the city council voted to establish a temporary shelter on a parking lot in El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, in downtown Los Angeles. The area has the city’s second largest concentration of people experiencing homelessness in downtown LA, after Skid Row. The five trailers in the project, Curbed LA wrote, will provide a combined 60 beds, bathrooms and showers, and office space for on-site case managers to help residents get permanent housing.
And Mayor Eric Garcetti and his team haven’t given up on reopening the bathroom and shower stations on Skid Row, the Times wrote.
“While I am disappointed that the expansion of the ReFresh Spot is taking longer than anticipated, I remain encouraged that it will help meet the basic human needs of far more people, and will offer services that were not previously available,” Garcetti told the newspaper in an email. “My team is working to reopen the site as quickly as possible.”
The initial response to the Skid Row bathrooms was enthusiastic, the Times added. Guests enjoyed “the minimal security, attendants who included formerly homeless people and a culturally sensitive music playlist, which ranged from classic R&B to soft rock and jazz.”
One of the new trailers has arrived and may open on Skid Row this month; the others are expected later this summer.
Rachel Kaufman is a journalist covering transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and more.