LA’s Latest Homelessness Problem: Expensive Toilets

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Here’s the latest controversy over LA’s growing homelessness problem:

L.A. has estimated that staffing and operating a mobile bathroom can cost more than $300,000 annually — a price tag that has galled some politicians. During budget talks this spring, city officials estimated that providing toilets and showers for every homeless encampment in need would cost more than $57 million a year. “How many single-family homes could you build for that much money?” Councilman Paul Krekorian asked at a hearing at City Hall last month, saying that L.A. had to find a cheaper solution.

This comes on the heels of a report that the interim shelters LA is currently building are coming in both late and vastly over budget.

This is such a peculiar problem. I keep reading about it, and yet the answers seem so elusive. Part of the problem, I suppose, is that when cities house the homeless they aren’t allowed to take shortcuts. Their shelters have to be built to code and they have to provide handicapped access and they have to be supervised and so forth. Especially, in a big city, that’s expensive.  People are often shocked at the cost of building schools in big cities too, but that’s just the nature of a place with high land values.

And yet . . . it sure seems as if you could make fairly quick inroads by focusing at least some attention on merely making things better, rather than making things great. There are, after all, many different kinds of homeless people, and some them actively resist living in conventional shelters. Isn’t it possible to at least provide them something they’re comfortable with, even if it’s little more than a better tent in an area with food and sanitation and just enough supervision to keep it safe? Would this be illegal? Or attract endless lawsuits? I don’t know. But if the only answer is multimillion dollar shelters for every single homeless person, then even LA’s billion-dollar Measure H sales tax won’t be enough to make a real dent. And it won’t attract the folks who simply refuse to live in managed shelters anyway.

I know all this stuff has been thought through a thousand times already, and the biggest problem remains community opposition to homeless shelters in their neighborhoods, but still. It sure seems like there’s something not quite right about all this.

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And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

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THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

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