A Los Angeles City Council committee approved a plan for the city to consider a system of portable restrooms to address the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A.
Councilman Mike Bonin recently introduced a motion calling on the city to explore the option, and the Homelessness and Poverty Committee approved it unanimously.
“Without access to the basic right of a restroom, people living on the streets are at a significantly increased risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis A that are spread through human feces,” the motion states.
Bonin’s motion Wednesday would direct city staff and some agencies to report to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee on the need for additional public restrooms, including on the potential for creating a system of portable public restrooms modeled after the “Pit Stop” program in San Francisco.
The motion also seeks a report on available funding sources for emergency portable restrooms, as well the bathroom attendants that would be required to operate them.
It also would direct the city attorney to report on the city’s laws regarding the placement of portable restrooms in designated locations, including city-owned parking lots.
“Opening additional public restrooms faces two challenges: funding and proper locations,” the motion says.
“Best practices indicate public restrooms should be staffed by attendants to keep the facilities clean and free of criminal activity. And even if adequate funding were available, there remains a lack of adequate space in our dense neighborhoods to place restrooms without encroaching in the public right-of-way.”
The Pit Stop Program is a partnership between Bay Area Rapid Transit and the city of San Francisco that provides portable public toilets at 17 locations.
Dr. Gil Chavez of the California Department of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Diseases said last week that adding hand-washing stations and bathrooms near homeless encampments could help fight the disease.
“I think there are two keys to preventing hepatitis A — one being vaccination, and two being good access to sanitation,” Chavez said.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that can spread easily through homeless populations because it thrives in unsanitary conditions and is primarily spread through contact with feces via surfaces or sexual contact.
Reports of the disease among the homeless have spiked in recent months in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz, causing Los Angeles County to declare an official outbreak in September.
The outbreak is worst in San Diego, where 490 cases and 18 deaths have been reported.
The state has vaccinated over 80,000 at-risk people to try to fight the spread of the disease and Gov. Jerry Brown declared of a state of emergency last week due to the outbreak.
Los Angeles County sees about 40-60 cases of hepatitis A annually, and although this year’s numbers have not risen above normal, officials raised concerns because of 10 cases reported in homeless patients.
Of those 10 cases, five were linked to the outbreaks in San Diego or Santa Cruz and three more cases involved workers at a health facility that could be traced back to the first five.
But the source of two cases in homeless individuals could not be identified, leading to the declaration of a local outbreak.
A report released in June found there are only nine public toilets available at night in the Skid Row neighborhood, where roughly 1,800 homeless people sleep at night.
The lack of toilets is worse than refugees in Syria are experiencing and violate the United Nations standards of hygiene, according to the “No Place to Go” report prepared by homeless advocacy groups, including the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative, Los Angeles Community Action Network and the Downtown Women’s Center.
—City News Service
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