(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — For many homeless Americans, just being able to use the bathroom can be a daily challenge.
“A lot of people go on the sidewalk and in the street,” Lonnie Morning, a 52-year-old homeless man in Sacramento, California, recently told local paper The Sacramento Bee.
“It’s disgusting,” he said, but “not because they want to be disgusting. It’s because there is nowhere to go.”
To Morning’s relief — and to that of hundreds more homeless people in Sacramento — the city has recently launched “Pit Stop,” a mobile public restroom program that will “provide people a place to take care of their needs with dignity,” according to a statement.
The program is currently in a 6-month testing period, and the first portable restroom trailer was parked in the city’s River District last week, according to Emily Halcon, the city’s homeless services coordinator.
The city chose the River District for its pilot site since it is “the area with the highest concentration of unsheltered people in Sacramento” and because “the area is very industrial and there are few public buildings where unsheltered folks can access restroom facilities,” Halcon said.
The newly placed mobile restroom, which is fully lit and air conditioned, contains three toilet stalls — including one that provides accommodations to people with disabilities. There are also sinks, used-needle receptacles and dog waste stations.
But perhaps most important to the program’s success are the restroom’s attendants.
The mobile restroom is staffed at all times while it’s open to the public on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Halcon said. She explained that during these times, there is always one attendant in the trailer to make ensure the toilets are clean, functioning and used for intended purposes.
There is also another attendant who walks the area’s perimeter to engage with the community and provide referrals to resources, services and centers if needed, Halcon said. She added that the mobile restroom is moved to a safe location on evenings and weekends to prevent the facility from being vandalized or abused when it cannot be staffed.
— City of Sacramento (@TheCityofSac) June 20, 2016
Halcon said that she’s been out to the site a few times in the past week, and it appears that dozens of people in the community — business owners and homeless people alike — have taken well to the new facility.
But not everyone seems to be happy.
The Downtown Sacramento Partnership (DSP), which is a private nonprofit group “dedicated to the improvement of the central business district,” told ABC News in a statement Friday that it believes the city already has “enough challenges downtown without creating a separate destination for the homeless that would be difficult to support and maintain.”
“The city is providing a resource for 8 hours a day during business hours at a cost of $200,000 a year,” DSP said. “We would like to see more resources devoted to permanent solutions that reduce the need for duplicative services.”
However, city council member Jeff Harris said in a statement that he believed the program “addresses an urgent need” as the city continues to “work towards more permanent solutions to end homelessness.”
“The people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento have limited access to toilets and lavatories,” Harris said. “As we work towards more permanent solutions to end homelessness in our City, this program is complementary in that it addresses an urgent need.”
Halcon, the city’s homeless services coordinator, added that DSP was not located in the River District and that she believed the DSP didn’t understand the lack of public facilities in the industrial area.
“Toilets are obviously not an end-all to homeless, but they are one piece of a bigger puzzle,” she said. “The goal here is to the address community impacts of unsheltered homelessness since there are real physical impacts. This program is trying to alleviate that and also help unsheltered people in the area make those important relationship contacts to get connected to resources and services they need.”
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