The Homeless

Homeless people get new bathroom in Sacramento. Public toilet near City Hall also possible

The Sacramento City Council is moving forward with a plan to expand restroom access to homeless people in the central city.

The council on Tuesday night agreed to open restrooms in an existing county building at North A and 14th streets for 12 hours a day, and contract with the county to help connect bathroom users with housing and other social services.

Council members also discussed the possibility of opening a public toilet known as a "Portland Loo" in Cesar Chavez Plaza, a central gathering place for homeless men and women.

The North A project would cost about $625,000, according to interim Assistant City Manager Christopher Conlin. The council also plans to install signs directing people to public restrooms.

The city manager's office will return to the council in the coming weeks with funding sources and contract details, Conlin said. He said officials hope that the project will be running by this fall.

Advocates for homeless people recently have pushed for expanded access to public bathrooms. They have noted that restrooms for homeless people are few and scattered, especially in the downtown area. As a result, they said, homeless people often relieve themselves on the streets.

Conlin said the city has 55 public bathrooms, including 28 that are open around the clock.

Cesar Chavez Plaza in the heart of downtown has become a flashpoint. Its only restroom recently was torn down. Homeless people now flock to the nearby Central Library to use its bathroom, and have soiled the sidewalk around the building when the library is closed.

The North A building is in the city's River District, another popular spot for homeless people.

Councilman Jeff Harris said the bathroom project makes sense in the district, where "the impacts of homelessness are undeniable." He and others said the project will help address the root causes of homelessness, including lack of access to services such as health care and housing.

But Harris said the council also must pursue facilities in Cesar Chavez Plaza.

In addition, the city should investigate partnerships with local businesses who are willing to open their restrooms to homeless people, said Vice Mayor Steve Hansen.

Bob Erlenbusch, director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, said he appreciates the city's diligence in looking into various options for increased access to public restrooms.

"But this recommendation doesn't go far enough," he said. "In the meantime, people still are using streets, alleyways, rivers and parkways" as bathrooms.

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