Health & Medicine

Sacramento to provide toilets with paid attendants to serve homeless

The public restrooms in Cesar Chavez Park where many people who are homeless gather, were closed for health and safety reasons in this photo taken Monday, December 21, 2015. The City Council agreed on April 5, 2016, to a six-month trial that will provide two toilets for homeless residents.
The public restrooms in Cesar Chavez Park where many people who are homeless gather, were closed for health and safety reasons in this photo taken Monday, December 21, 2015. The City Council agreed on April 5, 2016, to a six-month trial that will provide two toilets for homeless residents. lsterling@sacbee.com

Toilets were the talk of the town Tuesday as the Sacramento City Council agreed to provide a portable restroom aimed for homeless people and monitored by paid attendants.

Equipped with two toilets, two sinks and garbage bins and needle disposals, the facility will be mounted on an elevated trailer so it can be moved where needed. An attendant will be responsible for ensuring appropriate use of the restroom, as well as continued cleaning and stocking of supplies, according to the staff report. The city will contract with an outside organization to provide the attendants.

The champion of the program on the dais, Councilman Jeff Harris, said it’s a small but good step in the right direction. While the facility will be available for everyone, the move is aimed at giving homeless Sacramentans a place to go to the bathroom safely and with dignity.

The six-month pilot project is modeled on San Francisco’s “Pit Stop” Program, which targets areas heavily affected by homelessness. Launched in July 2014, “Pit Stop” has 11 locations around the city.

The city of Sacramento spends more than $7 million annually dealing with the effects of homelessness, including the cost of cleaning up human waste from encampments and along city streets, according to a staff report.

City staff estimated the program will cost $100,000. While Harris has heard mostly positive responses from residents, he said some of his constituents said the portable restroom is too expensive.

“But they don’t know how much we spend on cleaning up after people use our city streets as a latrine,” he said. “It’s very expensive to clean up the mess. The impacts in the River District are extreme, and something has to be done before it becomes a public health hazard.”

Incidents of vandalism, illicit activities and overnight sleepers resulted in a number of the city’s public restrooms being permanently closed or only open for events, according to the staff report.

The pilot program will involve one portable toilet facility in one location that will be available for up to 10 hours a day. City Homeless Services Coordinator Emily Halcon said she expects the portable restroom to open in early summer.

Although the staff report did not specify a location for the facility, Harris said he would like to see the pilot in the River District. Halcon said the final location will be determined in consultation with the council, businesses and neighborhoods based where the homeless population’s needs are greatest.

If the six-month program proves successful, the city could continue and possibly expand the service. Halcon said the city remains focused on helping homeless people obtain housing. This program shouldn’t distract from those efforts, she said.

“It’s not intended to be a permanent fixture in any one part of the city if we do the rest of our jobs correctly,” she said.

The pilot program was approved Tuesday by an 8-0 vote, with Mayor Kevin Johnson absent, as part of the council’s consent calendar.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy

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