Toilet Crisis on Skid Row

In January and February, 24 people from 15 organizations, calling themselves the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative, conducted an audit of toilets available to the homeless in Downtown’s 50-block Skid Row. Their shocking findings became headline news when they released their 64-page report, “No Place to Go,” in late June. For a nighttime unsheltered population they listed at 1,777, they found only 9 working public toilets, all of them at a single location: the Midnight Mission shelter, 601 S. San Pedro Street. This is eight blocks from the northeast and northwest corners of Skid Row and 9 blocks from the southeast border. A long walk at night. The number of estimated users was taken from the 2016 homeless count, and is today more than 2,000.

At the best of times, during the day, there are only a nominal 69 public toilets in Skid Row. Five are automated self-cleaning units, 8 porta potties in two public parks (closed at night), and 56 toilets at shelters and other homeless service providers. These numbers are misleadingly high, however. The auditors found 38% of the toilets not available during promised open hours. The five automated units are closed at night, and only one of them was working during the day. These have a bad reputation among the homeless in any case, as the little structures are often taken over by drug dealers or prostitutes and are regarded as unsafe.

The report declares, “Many public toilets lack stalls, doors or doors that lock. Most public toilets are infrequently maintained; many are soiled with fecal matter and debris. Many public toilets require the user to request individual sheets of toilet paper from a security guard. Most lack sinks for washing hands, soap, paper towels, toilet paper, seat covers, and menstrual products.”

Only two of the porta potties were ADA accessible, and fecal matter on the floor meant that wheelchair-bound users must roll through the feces and then place their hands on the wheels to move on. This also happens to wheelchairs on Skid Row sidewalks.

Map of Skid Row

The report made a major point of comparing Skid Row toilet facilities to UN standards in refugee camps. The UN High Commission for Refugees requires one toilet for every twenty persons, with no camp residents more than 50 meters (164 feet) from a toilet. The UN standard would require 89 toilets at night and 186 in the daytime. As for distance, from the Midnight Mission at 6th and San Pedro to the edge of Skid Row at 7th and Alameda Streets is .7 mile, or 3,696 feet.

This inhumane situation for the homeless is also an incipient public health disaster that has been in the making for many years. A 2012 LA County Department of Public Health survey of Skid Row found the lack of toilets, and the widespread use of the sidewalks and doorways in their place, to pose a substantial risk for spreading the following diseases:

“Meningitis, respiratory infections, enteric pathogens such as Hepatitis A and Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus skin infections, Tinea infections [fungal], Pediculosis infections [lice], diarrheal disease, Tuberculosis, HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and Typhus.”

Andy Bales, head of the Union Rescue Mission, told the London Guardian, “We should not let any human being experience that kind of embarrassment of indignity or shame of having to utilize a sidewalk for a restroom, let alone live in the filth.” (June 30)

Mayor Garcetti has budgeted $1.4 million for more Skid Row toilets for the 2017-18 fiscal year. But solving the problem goes far beyond porta potties. Skid Row is a high crime area and many of the homeless are mentally ill and destructive of unguarded restrooms. People are afraid to use unstaffed toilets on dark streets at night, and unstaffed units often have the toilets stuffed with trash.

The LA Times in a July 13 editorial said, “the city needs to tackle this problem with more urgency (and not just in downtown L.A.). If it’s safest to set up portable toilets in a parking lot with security guards, then the city should be persuading private property owners downtown to open up their lots at night for city-funded and secured portable toilets.”

San Francisco Pit Stop public toilets

The city government has announced that it will try to put up 10 more toilets by mid-September. The “No Place to Go” report proposed that Los Angeles emulate San Francisco’s Pit Stop Program. That city’s Public Works Department maintains portable toilets, and a few of the more permanent self-cleaning installations, at 15 locations in the city. The dual units are mounted on trailers and taken in nightly for cleaning. They include a sink for washing. The key to success has been having an attendant at each installation, to discourage vandalism and provide a sense of safety. The workers are mostly homeless people, supplied by local nonprofits at modest wages. The program has saved large costs in power washing sidewalks in affected areas.

For a copy of the report:

Los Angeles Skid Row self-cleaning toilet.



St. Joseph Center/First To Serve, Broadway Manchester Access Center, 8525 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90003

The SPA6 Homeless Coalition meets usually on the second Friday of every month. Our regular meetings are held from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm.  

Due to the coronavirus we are not holding meetings in person, but are holding them by remote video (Zoom). Our next meeting will be on Friday, October 8, 2021. It will be held by Zoom from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm in two distinct parts. Registration and logins are posted below. The registration link  for the first, Coalition, half, will give you the Zoom login but also lets us know who is coming. Since we went virtual we have not had a sign-in sheet to keep track of who is attending and this is to fix that.

10 to 11:30 am - SPA 6 Homeless Coalition 
We will have a special presentation by Our Future Los Angeles about the Housing Element and their other Advocacy Campaigns and Initiatives.  
When: Oct 8, 2021 10:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada) 
Register in advance for this meeting: 
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
11:30am to 1 pm - Measure H- Homeless Initiative Stakeholder Engagement Meeting--Different Zoom Link
Please attend and  invite whomever you think would be interested in attending!
Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 919 6156 8596
Passcode: 516229
One tap mobile
+12133388477,,91961568596#,,,,*516229# US (Los Angeles)
+16692192599,,91961568596#,,,,*516229# US (San Jose)
All of the materials, including the presentation video that will be shown at the beginning of the session are posted below. It would be great for everyone to review the presentation ahead of time.  We encourage everyone to come on Friday to participate in person!  And, the link is below to provide written feedback, as well!





Discussion Questions:
1) Of the 16 consolidated strategies, which do you think are most impactful in ensuring our homeless services system increases flow through our system with exits to permanent housing? Which will be most effective for people who are persistently homeless.
 2) What are the most impactful ways that the County’s mainstream systems (e.g. health and social services) can prevent homelessness and serve people who are experiencing homelessness? 
3)How can we create opportunities for cities to increase the supply of permanent and interim housing in their jurisdictions? How can the County and cities work together most effectively to maximize exits to permanent housing?
4) Do you think the steps that HI has taken to advance racial equity within our homeless services system are taking us in the right direction? Are there opportunities within specific strategies or programs to further ensure that resources are distributed in a racially equitable manner.
5) Are there critical issues or strategies you feel are not adequately addressed by the new framework and/or remain unclear? [(f time allows). 

And, a reminder:
2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Launch
When: Thursday, October 7, 2021, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 986 0713 2882
Passcode: 684831
One tap mobile
+16699006833,,98607132882# US (San Jose)
+12532158782,,98607132882# US (Tacoma)
See you on Friday!





Phoenix Hall, 10950 S. Central Avenue,  Los Angeles, CA 90059. It is at the back of the parking lot.