Sacramento, California — In the spring of 2016 city council members in Sacramento, California (which has a substantial homeless population) approved a motion to provide a special restroom for use by the city’s homeless.
But a recent report reveals that the facility costs the city $1,000 a day — or $11 per flush.
Sacramento spends more than $7 million annually dealing with the effects of homelessness, including the cost of removing human waste from city streets, according to a staff report.
The waste problem was so bad that Lisa Culp, executive director of the nonprofit organization Women’s Empowerment, reported that the city’s River District, a magnet for the homeless, was marred by feces-strewn parking lots and alleyways reeking of urine, not to mention used syringes littering grassy areas.
As Culp reported to the Sacramento City Council,
“My staff spent the first hour of every day cleaning up excrement, toilet paper, and hypodermic needles, so that when the women and children came to the program to prepare themselves to enter the job world, they didn’t have to walk into that.”
The city’s solution was an air-conditioned, ADA-compliant restroom with toilets, sinks, garbage containers, and needle disposal bins. The facility is staffed by attendants who ensure appropriate use of the restroom (preventing vandalism, for example), clean as needed, and restock supplies. The facility is mounted on an elevated trailer so it can be moved when required.
The restroom was set up in June in Friendship Park, a gathering place for the homeless north of downtown Sacramento and near the city’s biggest center for services to the homeless. The facility is open 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is staffed by 2 attendants.
The program’s initial budget, as estimated by Sacramento city staff, was $100,000, and the program’s chief supporter, Councilman Jeff Harris, admitted that some taxpayers felt the cost of the restroom was excessive.
But now a report released in October 2016 reveals that the restroom, which is used daily by about 90 people, costs the city $1,000 per day — roughly 75 per cent more than the original estimate.
Councilman Steven Hansen acknowledges the need for a new solution, saying,
“It was a worthy experiment, now we have to figure out a way to do it better.” He adds, “By staffing it with attendants, that’s part of what has made it more successful, but that’s also where the vast majority of the cost comes.”
By the time the project ends in December, city staffers estimate Sacramento will have spent $173,000, not counting the $35,000 cost of the trailer.
Emily Halcon, homeless services coordinator for Sacramento, admits that the program has been “certainly more expensive than we’d hoped.” But she has no opinion about whether the city should continue to provide the restroom.
Councilman Harris, however, insists that the facility has “ancillary benefits that you can’t quantify.” The city “has a great need to mitigate the impacts of homelessness and specifically fecal matter in the streets,” he says.
Harris intends to urge the city to continue to offer restrooms for the homeless.