A hygiene center opened Monday in downtown's Skid Row as part of the city's response to the outbreak of Hepatitis A in the area.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council members Jose Huizar, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price were on hand to officially open the Skid Row Community ReFresh Spot, a personal care center that will provide showers and toilet facilities.
"We have to do everything possible to help people stay healthy and live with the dignity that each one of us deserves," Garcetti said. "Homelessness is a crisis of housing and public health -- and the ReFresh Spot shows that when the community and city work together, we can help the most vulnerable Angelenos meet their most basic human needs."
The City Council hatched a plan to bring the facility to Skid Row after reports of Hepatitis A among the homeless spiked in recent months in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz, causing Los Angeles County to declare an official outbreak in September.
The council approved the center in November at a cost of $1.87 million through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018. The motion that created the funding also included a request for proposals for continued operations beyond June.
The ReFresh Spot, located at 557-559 Crocker St., will operate as a partnership between the city and the Skid Row Community Improvement Coalition under a one-year pilot model.
"Access to safe, clean toilets and a hot shower are a basic human right," Huizar said. "This will be more than a hygiene center. Our aim is to give the residents of Skid Row a sense of hope and dignity that better days are possible, while we also take action to protect them from the spread of Hepatitis A. Today is not the end of our efforts. It is just the beginning, but it represents a critical first step."
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Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that can spread easily through homeless populations because it thrives in unsanitary conditions and is primarily spread through contact with feces via surfaces or sexual contact.
A report released in June found there were only nine public toilets available at night in the Skid Row neighborhood, where roughly 1,800 homeless people sleep.
The lack of toilets is worse than refugees in Syria are experiencing and violates the United Nations standards of hygiene, according to the "No Place to Go" report prepared by homeless advocacy groups, including the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative, Los Angeles Community Action Network and the Downtown Women's Center.
During the month of December, the hygiene center will be open Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to noon. Over the coming months, it will scale up to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation staffed by round-the- clock security and homeless advocates from the Skid Row community.