In response to a fast-acting federal judge’s order, attorneys for the city of Los Angeles and the county Friday promised that sanitation facilities will be serviced and maintained daily on Skid Row, where some outdoor sinks were previously found to be lacking soap and water.
According to the city’s six-page status report, vendors of portable sanitation facilities have agreed to service all hand-washing stations and portable toilets each day in the Skid Row area, which is in danger of experiencing a deadly outbreak of COVID-19.
“To ensure that persons experiencing homelessness who are living in Skid Row receive necessary hygiene services during this crisis, the city has also implemented an enhanced monitoring program for the hand-washing stations and portable toilets in Skid Row,” City Attorney Michael Feuer stated in the document filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Each day, city Bureau of Sanitation employees will be dispatched to Skid Row to check on each hand-washing station, make sure it is in its designated location, and test whether it is operational with water, soap and paper towels, Feuer stated.
Sanitation employees will also check on the portable toilets, including whether they are stocked with toilet paper. Any deficiencies or problems will be recorded and compiled into a daily report sent to the vendor, and the reports will also be monitored by the city and used to address problem locations or other issues.
“If there is an immediate health hazard or other serious problem with any of the units, SAN will call out its own response team to deal with the issue, or contact the vendor for immediate service,” according to Feuer.
Although the city maintains jurisdiction over sanitation on Skid Row, the county is playing a role to assist the city to improve hygiene in the area. According to its response to the judge, the county has opened a washroom facility on Sixth Street with daily on-site security and janitorial staff and has plans to open others.
L.A. County Counsel Mary Wickham said the county has also identified facilities it controls on and around Skid Row “to help the city meet adequate sanitation and hygiene standards.”
Further, the county is exploring “the possibility of private parties with properties on Skid Row voluntarily opening their restrooms to the public,” the document states.
The city said it has independently verified the location of 56 hand-washing stations and 54 portable toilets that it contracted to be deployed in the Skid Row area. Feuer said the city is working with its vendors to provide additional hand-washing stations at four “high traffic” locations identified by the county, and expect to have those units installed by Monday. Sinks and portable toilets have already been deployed at other “high traffic” locations, he said.
The status reports were filed in response to an order Wednesday from U.S. District Judge David Carter, who said it is imperative that the Skid Row community have immediate access to functioning sanitation facilities “to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.”
Earlier this week, Carter — who is overseeing a closely watched lawsuit involving homelessness on Skid Row and the spread of the virus — led a contingent of county attorneys on a two-hour walking tour of the area to see for themselves several non-functioning facilities after the judge was promised that working sinks and toilets were installed to help the homeless deal with the COVID-19 threat.
As of Friday, there were 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus among the homeless population in the county, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“The city is committed to providing hygiene facilities for persons experiencing homelessness in the Skid Row area during these unprecedented times to mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” Feuer said. “While there can be no guarantee that every portable station will be working 100% of the time every hour of every day, the city continues to work to improve the delivery of these important services to its residents.”
Discussions in the case are set to resume next week.
An estimated 5,000 homeless people currently live in the 50-block community downtown. The city and county have opened new shelters in recreation centers, deployed hand-washing stations and portable toilets at encampments and brought about 760 hotels and motel rooms and 500 trailers online to deal with the problem.
The lawsuit was brought by the L.A. Alliance, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, against the city and county for allegedly not doing enough to find solutions to the problem of thousands of people living in tents, cars and on the streets throughout the downtown area, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
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