The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to expand a pilot program to offer homeless people access to hygiene via mobile showers.
The motion approved by the board will set aside up to $200,000 from Homeless Initiative funds to pay for the operation of one or more mobile shower trailers owned by the county’s Office of Emergency Management.
The county’s chief executive officer will work with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to identify service providers who can operate the trailers and locations where they should be deployed, and to coordinate with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority regarding the possibility of placing shower trailers near Metro stations where they are needed.
In addition to the chance to take a shower, the trailers offer homeless people an opportunity to connect with a variety of social services, including healthcare, legal assistance and a path to long-term housing.
“I can’t even tell you what a profound impact it has for ... a homeless person leaving [an] encampment, coming out, not only getting a shower but being cared for,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who sponsored the motion with Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
Earlier this year the board directed the county CEO, the Homeless Services Authority, director of Public Health and other county officials to work with the nonprofits Lava Mae and Shower of Hope to provide mobile showers near homeless encampments in the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area and in East Pasadena, respectively.
The Whittier Narrows pilot program launched in March, offering showers and outreach services to homeless people for four hours once a week. On average, more than 100 people used the services each week, according to a report by county CEO Sachi Hamai.
“While not all participants are interested in utilizing the mobile showers,” the report said, “the showers help to generate interest in the other engagement opportunities at the site,” including hot meals, substance-abuse counseling, health information and help getting criminal records expunged.
The report found that there were no security issues at the site when the showers operated.
At the East Pasadena pilot, which began in May, an average of 30 to 40 people used the services each week.
A report by the CEO found that the lower participation rates may have been the result of insufficient time to get word out about the facility and limited shade at the site. Nonetheless, the chief executive officer said, “all parties involved with this mobile shower pilot believe that it meets a significant need in the area.”
The Office of Emergency Management has purchased six mobile shower trailers to be used during emergencies. The office would provide the trailers to homeless service providers at no cost, but could recall them in the event of an emergency.
Restrooms and showers for homeless people — an issue that gained urgency amid a hepatitis A outbreak last year — have faced controversy and met with mixed success elsewhere in Los Angeles.
Last year a grass-roots coalition worked with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office to open a “ReFresh Spot” in a temporary trailer on skid row, with a plan to expand and add laundry facilities when permanent trailers arrived. But three months later the site was closed, and plans to reopen it were repeatedly scuttled in the face of bureaucratic delays.
Charles Porter, who works with the community organization Social Model Recovery Systems, said in an interview Tuesday that three new trailers with showers, toilets and washer/dryers have passed inspections and are undergoing testing now. An official grand re-opening is planned for Sept. 7.
Across town, after more than two years of pushing by Westside Councilman Mike Bonin, portable toilets and sinks are now available for homeless people to use overnight at the Rose Avenue beach parking lot in Venice Beach.
And earlier this year, the L.A. Metro Board of Directors voted to study installing shower and bathroom facilities in or near stations, despite concerns that they could attract more homeless people or be a magnet for drug use or prostitution.
The motion approved on Tuesday seems set to build on that, directing the chief executive officer to coordinate with Metro on assessing the feasibility of placing shower trailers near stations.
It also instructs Hamai and Department of Parks and Recreation to identify parks and recreation facilities that have unused showers during the off season that could be directed toward serving the homeless.