January 14, 2013
Plans for a portable toilet in Salinas’ homeless district nearly went down the drain when city officials tried to remove the device this morning.
Just hours after homeless residents celebrated the arrival of the toilet to Chinatown’s Soledad Street, the city sent for the toilet to be taken away.
The toilet was illegally placed on a lot owned by the city, says Don Reynolds, project manager at the Public Works Department. Several homeless people have been squatting in a tent community for several months on the same lot.
The squatters will be evicted in a “sweep” of the street at the end of this month, and have repeatedly been warned to leave, Reynolds says.
“We don’t want to provide accommodation for folks who are technically trespassing,” he says.
After a small kerfuffle, homeless and their advocates moved the portable toilet behind a nearby building leased from the city by Dorothy’s Place, a Chinatown soup kitchen.
The new location behind an art gallery is less visible, and less preferable, says Seth Pollack, director of CSUMB’s service learning program and one of the organizers of the portable toilet effort.
One of the conditions of keeping the toilet, which has been paid for short-term by an anonymous donor, is making sure the toilet is not used for any illicit activity, like sex or drug use.
A group of homeless people has volunteered to keep watch over the toilet.
Salinas Chinatown PHLUSH, the team of advocates and homeless volunteers spearheading the project, did not consult the city on where to place the toilet, Pollack says.
“It created a healthy place for people to defecate and urinate, and that would be a good thing for the city,” Pollack says. “We thought that would be an improvement.”
Reynolds, who is also a member of another group that deals with homeless issues in Chinatown, says as of now there is no problem with the toilet’s new location. But, if nearby business owners complain, the city has the right to exercise its power as a landlord and ask Dorothy’s Place to move the device.
If Salinas Chinatown PHLUSH had waited until after the sweep to find a place for the toilet, an agreement might have been worked out, Reynolds says.
“None of that was done, so it was a big liability for us,” he says. Compounding the problem is the fact that the lot the homeless people are living on and want for the toilet has toxic lead underneath it.
Meanwhile, homeless residents are upset that their plans have been placed in jeopardy.
“This really made me sad, because we did a lot of work to get this going,” said Thomas Leeakashistokes, a resident of the tent community. “I can’t believe that the city would do this to us.”