When people drive by homeless encampments at different sites, near the V.A., in West L.A. or in Venice, at almost all of them there is a porta-potty or a portable sink.
The City, during the pandemic, installed portable hand-washing stations and toilets in an effort to keep Covid-19 cases down among the homeless and to help with personal hygiene.
A June 16 investigative story in L.A.Taco (“Handwashing Station Vendors Collected Millions of Dollars in Payments from the City While Some Units Went Dry”), examined the success of the program.
The City split the contract between United Site Services (USS), which initially delivered 200 hand-washing stations and 200 porta-potties. Andy Gump supplied 50 units and National Construction and several other suppliers delivered fewer than 15 units.
Installing the units range from $9 for a handwashing station with two faucets to $30 for an ADA compliant bathroom.
L.A. also agreed to pay vendors more than $2 million to service the hand-washing stations and portable toilets since March 2020.
According to the article, vendors collected money from the city and federal government, but found “that hundreds of hand-washing stations and porta-potties went days, weeks and in some cases more than a month without being serviced by vendors between April and August of last year.
“And since then, we’ve continued to come across hygiene stations that are unusable,” the story reports.
“Just this past weekend we assessed four hand-washing stations and two porta-potties near MacArthur Park that were in need of service over the span of multiple days. Despite these lapses in service, the city continues to pay vendors.
“According to Brian Swanson, an analyst with the Department of General Services familiar with the contracts, and recent purchase orders reviewed by L.A. TACO, hygiene stations cost taxpayers roughly $200,000 per month currently.
“Daily maintenance accounts for most of the bill,” the story noted. “In February for example, USS charged the city more than $135,000 to supply and service roughly 350 hand-washing stations and toilets. More than 60 percent of that money went towards maintenance.”
The reporters kept track of several locations and noted that many that lacked soap, water or that toilets were unusable because of lack of maintenance.
When questioned, Swanson said that if people were not satisfied with the units, they could file a “formal supplier performance request.”
(Editor’s note: This is the third investigative article that was produced as a project for the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2020 Data Fellowship. Visit: https://www.lataco.com/hand-washing-vendors/)