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Hepatitis A outbreak highlights lack of public restrooms for homeless

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It’s a public health risk that is “neither tolerable nor humane”

A Hepatitis A outbreak might finally prompt city officials to provide more public restrooms for homeless people.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin introduced a motion today that asks the council to fund “emergency portable toilets” after Los Angeles County public health officials declared the outbreak last week. (In San Diego County, an “unprecedented” outbreak of the the disease has killed 16 people and hospitalized nearly 300 others since November.)

The Hepatitis A virus is most commonly spread through contaminated food and feces.

Bonin says that because of the public restroom shortage, many homeless people are forced to defecate on the streets. The situation is a public health risk that is “neither tolerable nor humane,” Bonin says in the motion, which was seconded by Councilmember Jose Huizar, according to the Times.

The toilets would be installed in Venice and Skid Row, which only has five public restrooms for the estimated 1,800 unhoused people living on the streets there. Especially in Skid Row, access to toilets has been an issue for years.

Bonin called for the toilets to have attendants, as there have been issues in the past with public restrooms being used for prostitution and drug use. Bonin is also hoping that the city could look into a program that would bring mobile facilities with sinks to areas where they’re needed.

City staff were instructed to report to the homelessness and poverty committee within two weeks on funding and setting up portable toilets.