Skid row is scheduled to lose half of its portable toilets today because of budget cuts at the agency that funds them.
The decision by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to leave 13 of the toilets at strategic positions within the 50-block area will save the agency $109,000 a year, Executive Director Harreld Adams said.
While admitting that all 26 toilets were being used at full capacity, Adams said his hands were tied. "I wish we could have more, but there's only so much we can do," he said.
The toilets are paid for by discretionary funds, which were drastically reduced this year, he said.
The agency receives $4 million a year from the city and county to pay for 25 winter shelters and eight referral centers across the county, Adams said. Additionally, the agency pays $14 a night for emergency housing at private shelters.
The money saved from cutting the toilets amounts to "5,400 bed nights we would be able to provide to people," he said.
The public toilets have long been a controversial part of the scenery in the city's skid row. Before the toilets were set up in 1994, residents and business owners complained that transients urinated and defecated in the street. But when the toilets were installed, they complained that their presence was a blight that would scare away customers.
Without portable units, the transients will use the streets as a toilet, homeless activists said.
"Skid row sidewalks already reek of urine," said Alice Callaghan, director of Las Familias del Pueblo. "Now half the waste will go on the sidewalk."
Councilwoman Rita Waters, whose district includes parts of skid row, said she was appalled by news of the move.
"It makes no sense," said Waters.
Mayor Richard Riordan sent a last-minute fax to Adams on Wednesday evening, urging him to investigate funding alternatives to continue the program.