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Metro might put showers in some train stations for LA’s homeless: ‘It’s a humanitarian issue’

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The mobile showers would roll out first in North Hollywood and Westlake

The plaza of the North Hollywood Metro station in North Hollywood.
The plaza of the North Hollywood Metro station in North Hollywood.
Downtowngal via Wikipedia Commons

To promote hygiene and quell the spread of infectious diseases among LA’s growing homeless population, Metro is considering putting showers and bathrooms in or near some of its 93 train stations.

Metro’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion Thursday calling for a detailed plan of action to pilot a hygiene and mobile shower program.

“A shower might just give someone that confident feeling they need. They might be taking the bus or train to go to a job interview,” said Metro director and county supervisor Janice Hahn.

The plan is due in four months, meaning details are scarce right now. But the motion notes that the program would roll out first at the North Hollywood and Westlake/MacArthur Park stations.

According to Metro director and Los Angeles County supervisor Hilda Solis, there is only one public restroom across Metro’s entire system; it’s at the Silver Line’s El Monte station.

Spearheaded by Solis, the motion follows a similar program developed by the county Board of Supervisors earlier this year. In February, the county kicked off a mobile-shower pilot program in East Pasadena and South El Monte.

The Metro motion follows in the county’s footsteps, and emphasizes coordination across several agencies, including the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

It also includes a provision to begin studying a long-term plan for to incorporate public restrooms at all new rail stations.

“It’s a humanitarian issue in my opinion,” Solis said.

Inglewood Mayor James Butts was the only board member to speak against the proposal, saying showers and bathrooms might end up attracting homeless residents.

“I’m concerned that, without careful thought, we’ll impact the main business that we’re in. And the main business that we’re in is to increase ridership,” said Butts. “Showers should be where the people who will use them are, as oppose to having the expectation that people are going to come to a Metro station and use the shower before they ride the trains. I don’t think that’s realistic.”

But Solis said homeless residents are already using Metro, to the point of discouraging other potential riders from boarding.

“I’m not merely saying that everyone deserves a shower, but I think once sanitation services are provided, that actually provides more safety and dignity not just for the person who’s impacted, but also for people who pass them and walk onto our rail system and our buses,” she said. “It’s high-time that we start thinking a little bit beyond just what services we’ve provided in the past. These individuals do ride our system.”

Aside from basic hygiene, one of the aims of the Metro service would be to help connect LA’s homeless to services offered by local governments and their partners, according to Solis’ office.

Metro director Mike Bonin, a Los Angeles City Councilmember, said it could be transformative for someone living on the streets to be able to shower or “to have a place other than an alleyway or behind a bush to use the bathroom.”

“What I have seen... is the opportunity to take a shower, to feel better about yourself and feel cleaner, is a great opportunity for first contact with case management,” he said.