A group of activists looking to bring awareness to the lack of restrooms on Skid Row attempted to “deliver” a pair of toilets to the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti at Los Angeles City Hall but were turned away at the security entrance.

“We thought that since L.A. has sister cities throughout the world, maybe we can be treated with the same respect and investment for districts as sister cities are, so we wanted to bring the toilets to the mayor from the sister city of Skid Row in hopes that it could be a partnership for a future of cooperation and collaboration,” Matt Harper, an activist with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, a Skid Row soup kitchen, told City News Service.

The activists, including members of the Los Angeles Community Action Network and other groups, also held a news conference Wednesday and occupied a pair of bathrooms on the fourth floor of City Hall near the council chamber for several hours by sitting in all of the stalls.

Harper said that Los Angeles Police Department officers working security told him that because the toilet was made of porcelain — which is made from glass, and City Hall does not allow visitors to bring glass containers — the toilets would not be allowed inside.

Harper said the day’s actions were meant to highlight the recent hepatitis A outbreak in the city and the recent studies that have found Skid Row is lacking enough public restrooms.

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.

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.

Harper said he and the other activists had spent weeks reaching out to Garcetti’s office and the office of City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the Skid Row area, to try and get more information on what the city was doing about public restrooms but did not get much of a response.

The City Council on Friday is scheduled to consider a motion that would authorize city staff to explore the creation of a system of portable restrooms to address the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A.

“Mayor Garcetti is committed to improving health and safety for Angelenos affected by the homelessness crisis, and the city is dedicating new resources to expanding access to restroom and shower facilities, as well as keeping our streets and sidewalks clean,” said Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Garcetti.

“This year’s budget included $1.4 million for the maintenance and expansion of toilets on Skid Row, and the city is working to create new facilities in other areas of Los Angeles — because no one should be forced to live in unhealthy, dangerous, or unclean conditions while they are waiting to move into new permanent supportive housing,” he said.

Huizar said the city is working to bring more restrooms to Skid Row.

Our challenges in Skid Row are that portable bathrooms are often targeted for illicit activity and their locks are broken. The hygiene center that we’re bringing to Skid Row is not the final solution, but it will provide more than a dozen bathrooms, showers and laundry access, along with attendants to monitor and assist,” Huizar said in a statement. “And today, I introduced a motion to move $50,000 so we can provide drinking fountains at the station. I will definitely be calling for more funding for bathrooms for Skid Row in the budget and more urgency in providing the needed attendants for our existing public toilets, so they are accessible to all.”

Huizar is a co-signer of the motion that seeks to create the portable restroom system.

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.

Harper said while he applauds the motion, it falls short of addressing the restroom needs of Skid Row.

“We want them to recognize that the need is greater than an individual group of toilets, we just want to make sure it’s not a symbolic act of providing a few and that it’s actually an effective act of meeting the needs of folks of Skid Row,” Harper said.

–City News Service

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