It’s estimated that about 1,800 people living without shelters on the sidewalks and alleys in Downtown’s Skid Row, and KPCC reports that that for all those people, there are just five public restrooms—and they don’t have a reputation for being clean.
The bathrooms are self-contained stalls that "self-clean" after each use. But "[d]espite the self-cleaning mechanism and regular visits from L.A. Sanitation crews, Skid Row's bathrooms are not known for being clean facilities," says KPCC.
The restrooms are probably just being used too much. The CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, which is located on Skid Row, notes that a rental website for a portable toilet company recommends renting 50 toilets to serve a crowd of about 1,800 for 24 hours.
The lack of adequate facilities means there is often waste in the streets. In the past, Bales said, rains washed some of it away, but with the region’s stubborn drought, that relief hasn’t come. Though the mission cleans its exterior frequently, a mixture of sunlight and urine still managed to degrade its walls, so now it's coated in urine-proof paint.
Bales now gets around in a wheelchair after he says he contracted strep, staph, and E-coli while working on Skid Row. He said other residents have come down with the same diseases. (SCPR contacted the county department of public health, but officials there said they had no record of a recent outbreak of "waste-born illnesses" on Skid Row.)
KPCC reports that adding more restrooms might not be the best solution. The existing restrooms are sometimes used for drug use or prostitution. "[The restrooms] are wonderful if they are used properly as a restroom facility," Bales said. "The problem is they are also misused."
Elsewhere in the state, cities have addressed similar problems with some success by hiring bathroom attendants to watch the toilets. Bales would like to hire attendants and install security cameras to watch the restrooms—plans he said he intends to bring to future city council meetings. "There's not enough of them, and there needs to be a new way of ensuring that they're used as restrooms," he said.