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Protesters 'Occupy' City Hall Bathrooms To Call Attention To Lack Of Toilets On Skid Row

(Photo courtesy of Jed Poole)
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A group of activists took to the bathrooms of Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday to protest the lack of toilets on Skid Row. Nine toilets are available at night for the approximately 1,800 individuals who sleep on Skid Row, according a recent report.

Addressing the extreme shortage of toilets on Skid Row has become more urgent amidst a hepatitis A outbreak in the city, as the virus is transmitted through feces. Although large hepatitis A outbreaks typically stem from contaminated food (often with outbreaks radiating around a single restaurant), the current California outbreak has largely been spread person-to-person, primarily within the state's homeless population. The death toll in San Diego rose to 19 earlier this month, and a separate outbreak was declared in Los Angeles in September. Fourteen people, at least half of whom are homeless, have been affected by the Los Angeles outbreak so far, according to the L.A. Times.

Activists from the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and Los Angeles Community Action Network occupied City Hall's fourth floor bathroom stalls for much of the day and also tried to deliver several graffiti-covered toilets to Mayor Eric Garcetti's office. The activists got the toilets as far as the City Hall security desk, but the delivery was unsuccessful. "They were told to wait, and then they were told that the toilets [wouldn't be allowed in] because they were porcelain and no glass was allowed in City Hall," Jed Poole, a supervising coordinator at LA Catholic Worker, told LAist.

According to Poole, the protesters occupied the restrooms on the fourth floor (where City Council offices are located) from about 9:30 or 9:45 a.m. until around 2 p.m., blocking off between 16 and 20 stalls.

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Protesters in the fourth floor bathroom. (Photo courtesy of Jed Poole)
"People were trying to get in. A couple people were sort of upset, but we did get a lot of words of support," Poole said. "I definitely feel like it brought up a conversation that had already been going on."

The toilets that they were unable to deliver to the mayor had been inscribed with messages from Skid Row residents. His organization runs a soup kitchen on Skid Row, and they had previously brought the toilets there and invited guests who came through to leave messages for the mayor. "Those are all the words of people who live, work and eat and sleep on Skid Row," Poole said, adding that people on Skid Row do work however they can, be it collecting cans or doing other people's laundry. "I consider all their jobs as legitimate as the rest of our jobs," he said.

Last week, an L.A. City Council committee voted unanimously to consider a plan that would bring portable restrooms to Los Angeles' vulnerable populations, but that motion—which directs the city to explore ways of providing better access to clean restrooms and explore the potential for implementing a system of portable restrooms—did not include any specific timeline. The L.A. Times reports that the city plans to install 14 additional restrooms when a Skid Row hygiene center is opened in the fall, and that the Council has also scheduled a discussion on bringing emergency portable toilets to street encampments for Friday.

"The aim is to get the restrooms down there. They should have been there a long time ago," Poole said, adding that his organization is advocating for at least 164 additional restrooms, in line with the needs identified in a recent report.

"The numbers [of people] on Skid Row are not going down and people deserve human dignity and human rights. They deserve to not have to piss and shit on a sidewalk, and then have to be criminalized by the city for it," Poole said.