A Place to Live, a Place to Poop

Unless you suffer from Crohn’s disease or chronic incontinence, you probably don’t worry about where you’re going to make your next bowel movement.

Unless you work in a coal mine or an outlaw asbestos factory, you probably don’t worry about where you’re going to get your next breath of clean air.

If, however, you live on Los Angeles streets or in an apartment near the streets – particularly a freeway – these worries haunt your daily life.

Among the myriad indignities and humiliations our homeless brothers and sisters must confront on an ongoing basis is being forced to use a sidewalk as a bathroom. According to the latest studies conducted by providers of homeless services, nearly 2,000 unsheltered souls on Skid Row share exactly nine working toilets at night – which is about the number you might find in a decent Bel-Air estate. (The typical Southwest Airlines 737 seats about 135 passengers and offers 3-4 bathrooms). During daytime hours, the number jumps to 43 working toilets – but so does the daytime population, to more than 4,500 human beings needing to pee and poo.

If Los Angeles wishes to up it game and, say, meet the standards used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which makes policy for the squalid camps housing Syrians, Yemenis and everywhere else America’s imperial meddling has caused humanitarian crises, there would be one working toilet for every 20 people. To meet this modest nightly threshold – really, imagine sharing a bathroom in your house with 19 other people – the City would have to increase facilities 11-fold, more than a 1000% rise from current levels. Perhaps this explains why more and more often, residents of Los Angeles are confronted with pools or urine and piles of feces in public places.  It’s not that homeless people don’t have scruples; they simply don’t have anywhere to go. In every sense of the word.

Ah, if only they were respectable working members of society, folks who can afford to lease a proper apartment. (Or in the case of many people here, almost afford.) Then at least they’d have a place to make potty. But the ability to pay rent in Los Angeles, alas, doesn’t mean you have a safe and healthy place to live.

A decade ago, when Eric Garcetti was City Council President, researchers from USC’s Keck School of Medicine warned him and his cronies that the City must stop approving the construction of housing near freeways. He ignored the USC Children’s Health Study then and he continues to ignore it now as Mayor. The study’s conclusion was unequivocal: housing should not be built within 500 feet of a freeway. Not unless you want to guarantee long-term health problems.

But as financial favors to his developer buddies, in 2015 alone, the Mayor and his political appointees at the City Planning Commission approved and allowed construction of more than 4,000 such units, known as “black lung lofts.”

To make matters worse, many of these projects were granted spot zoning exemptions or amendments to the General and Community Plans, which forbid patently unhealthy construction. The latest “exception” is the Clarendon Street Apartments, in the Cahuenga pass, another luxury development that will do nothing to alleviate our town’s homelessness crisis. This one allows the developer to flout local zoning regulations and build condos 60 feet from the 101 Freeway.

In March of this year, Garcetti told the L.A. Times “he opposes any restrictions on how many homes can be built near freeways and thinks that improving air-filtration, building design and tailpipe emissions are a better way to reduce risks to residents.”

He did not explain what scientific study he had consulted to reach his position. He also did not pledge to move his family into a freeway-adjacent apartment.

Recently, however, Mayor Garcetti has pledged to install 10 new toilets on skid row – even though homeless advocates suggested the current situation calls for 100. And he’s earmarked $14 million in the current budget to “maintain” the handful already in place. (See? The homeless can be a profit center). If this is how we the landed gentry deal with a public health crisis, a humanitarian crisis, no wonder we don’t care about filling our lungs with freeway exhaust.

That our Mayor is willing to let the streets of Los Angeles become an auxiliary latrine no longer surprises. This is the same guy tackling the housing shortage by cheerleading for black lung lofts.

At least they come with their own bathroom.

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1 Response

  1. Chris says:

    I have often wondered about these problems