Hepatitis A outbreak sparks call for L.A. to give homeless people more street toilets

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 30, 2013: Ricardo Albrecht, left, waits outside one of the public toilets at
L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin asked the city to install more portable toilets on skid row, where only nine toilets are available overnight for 2,000 homeless people.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles councilman called on the city Tuesday to fund emergency portable toilets to stem the public health threat posed by the hepatitis A outbreak among homeless people.

Westside Councilman Mike Bonin said that because of a public bathroom shortage, homeless people in neighborhoods are forced to defecate in the streets. Public health officials, who last week declared L.A.’s hepatitis A outbreak, say the disease is most commonly transmitted from feces through contaminated food or sexual activity.

“The current situation is neither tolerable nor humane, and it is a risk to public health,” Bonin said in a motion seconded by Councilman Jose Huizar.

Bonin spokeswoman Jamarah Hayner said city staff will report to the council’s homelessness and poverty committee within 14 days on funding and installing portable toilets in neighborhoods such as downtown’s skid row and Venice.


The councilman hopes a formal proposal can go to the full council in October, Hayner said.

Bonin also called for live attendants to staff the portable toilets. He asked staff to study launching a mobile toilet and sink program modeled on a similar effort in San Francisco.

Hayner said Bonin had been working for months on increased restroom access for homeless people; the announcement last week of the outbreak gave his work a push.

Los Angeles County health officials on Sept. 20 declared a hepatitis A outbreak in Los Angeles after a similar pronouncement in San Diego County, where 461 people have been infected by the virus, 17 of them fatally.


Only 10 people in Los Angeles have contracted hepatitis A, mostly through contact with people infected by the highly contagious virus in San Diego or Santa Cruz, where 69 people have been diagnosed.

However, two homeless people in Los Angeles who did not travel to either place were identified last week, which justified the outbreak designation, officials said.

Most people recover from hepatitis A on their own, but it can cause serious harm to people with compromised immune systems, and the homeless population is seen as particularly vulnerable.

L.A. health workers are inspecting street encampments and hope to vaccinate 40,000 homeless people, as well as new jail inmates, active drug users and medical providers.

Twitter: @geholland


4:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new outbreak numbers in San Diego County.


This article was originally published at 1:30 p.m.

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