On one of many side streets in downtown Los Angeles’ skid row area, where tents and tarps line the stretches of sidewalk in front of vacant lots and industrial warehouses, a long, white mobile trailer sits filled with fixtures that, to most people, seem nothing more than mundane.
But among homeless men and women who sleep on those sidewalks, the sinks, toilets and showers inside the parked mobile trailer mean something more: dignity.
“It means having a place to refresh yourself, to feel human so they can feel ready for the world,” said Louise Mbella “Sinai” (known in the community as Frenchy), a local activist and strategist who helped compile a report released earlier this year about the lack of public restrooms on skid row.
Mbella said human dignity is at the heart of the new hygiene center, dubbed the “Skid Row Community ReFresh Spot.” The soon-to-be-open restrooms — one side for men, the other for women — are the result of the work of a planning group called the Skid Row Community Improvement Coalition, composed of area residents and community leaders.
The group has met regularly for several months, in partnership with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office. They’ve worked to design the mobile ReFresh Spot because of what has become a dire need for more safe, functional public bathrooms in the skid row area.
There have have been calls from the skid row community for years for more working toilets, sinks and showers in their community. Mbella worked with the Inner City Law Center, which produced a report this summer called “No Place to Go.” The report found that from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on skid row, there are nine public toilets available for 1,777 unsheltered homeless people.
“Even counting these nine public toilets, skid row is short of the United Nations sanitation standard by 80 toilets,” according to the report.
City officials have said that without supervision, public toilets in the area get damaged by or are used for illicit activity.
The issue came into sharper focus in September as a result of the hepatitis A outbreak that that has sickened 544 people and killed 20 in homeless encampments within San Diego County. In Santa Cruz County, 76 people, also within homeless encampments, have been sickened with the liver disease.
An outbreak was declared in Los Angeles County in September. As of Monday, there are 32 cases reported and no deaths. Of those, 15 cases appeared to be among homeless people and 17 among gay men who are not homeless. Last month, L.A. County supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger called on the county’s Department of Public Health to conduct a survey of homeless encampments in unincorporated areas, and in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles river beds, “to assess where additional toilet and handwashing facilities are most needed.”
As a result of the 883 surveys, public health officials identified four encampments within the unincorporated areas of the county, “all of which require additional public hygiene facilities or increased access to existing facilities.”
The Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday on moving forward with adding those facilities, among other measures to stem the spread of hepatitis A.
Meanwhile, the Skid Row ReFresh Spot on Crocker Street will open soon on a city-owned property. Some day, that lot will be developed as permanent supportive housing by the Weingart Center, a service center for homeless men and woman on skid row.
The temporary hygiene center is funded by money from the city and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Last week, Councilmember José Huizar introduced a motion in partnership with Garcetti to secure nearly $1.87 million in funding to establish the center.
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In time, the ReFresh Spot will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with security around the clock, according to Huizar’s office and those with the coalition. The funding will allow the facility to be operational until June 30, 2018, according to Huizar’s office
On Monday, community organizers held a meeting on the site, surrounded by potted plants and small trees, paintings and other amenities that will soon surround the long trailer. The goal is not only to have daily access to restrooms, hand washing stations and showers, but also to laundry services.
“This will be more than a hygiene center,” Huizar said in a statement. “Our aim is to give the residents of skid row a sense of hope and dignity.”
Mbella said she hopes the ReFresh Spot will serve as a template for more such facilities in the skid row area and beyond.
“This is the answer to providing a basic human right,” Mbella added.
source: daily news