With an unprecedented amount of money coming to Fresno to address homelessness, why are 80% of Fresno’s homeless forced to live in situations like this? Community Alliance reporter Bob McCloskey is on a quest to “follow the money” and tell you what is really happening to our tax dollars. This shelter was next to the Starbucks at Ashlan and West avenues. Photo by Mike Rhodes

City Rolls Out Mobile Shower Unit

In April 2020, the Fresno City Council approved the funding and purchase of a mobile restroom and shower unit meant to serve the unhoused community. The funding was provided by federal CARES Act dollars.

For many years, street family members, advocates and members of the Fresno community that have a heart have lobbied, pleaded and pushed for the city and county to provide some human dignity and meet the basic human needs of people living on the brutal, hot streets of Fresno.

Instead, elected leaders have complained about human feces and the smell of urine on the streets and sidewalks without providing any restrooms. They have pontificated endlessly about the “homeless problem” and pandered to residents and business owners by enforcing endless encampment sweeps, oftentimes violating the Martin v. Boise court decision, which requires that shelter is offered to people before a sweep can occur on public property.

Elected leaders complain about the trash and filth, provide no solutions and cruelly punish those unfortunate enough to be unhoused. Finally, after continued lobbying, the city is making a meager attempt to provide some sanitation services by sending one mobile shower unit around the city on a rotating basis.

There are 2,338 people (an undercount) in the City of Fresno, City of Madera and County of Fresno who are unsheltered and have no access to water and sanitation. The vast majority are in the city and one mobile shower/restroom is insufficient albeit a small step in the right direction. Restrooms and water access should be provided throughout the city and county in sufficient numbers.

The City finally rolled out the showers on July 6. The mobile unit has four bathrooms and is equipped with showers, toilets and sinks. It hooks up to a city water connection and runs off a generator.

Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias said that the “showers and restrooms have been the No. 1 request from the homeless for decades.”

Arias also said that he hopes the restrooms will relieve the need “to clean up human feces and urine from public buildings and from small business storefronts,” a major complaint from the business community.

It stretches credibility to think that one rotating mobile restroom unit will have a major impact on reducing the amount of human excrement on the streets of Fresno. The city only has one mobile unit. A second unit is scheduled to arrive by March 2023.

The City is contracting with Grace Bound Inc. to operate the mobile shower unit in its pilot period, and then the City will issue a request for proposals to operate the units in the future costing $4,000 a month. Each unit costs $130,000 to purchase.

The City is reporting that the rollout has been successful, and a City official said that “everybody’s been respectful and clean, and it’s running pretty smooth, so we’re off to a good start.”

Several City Council members have begun identifying locations in which the unit can be parked, he added. For now, the plan will be to rotate the location on a weekly basis. Arias said he hopes that in the future, the City will be able to purchase additional mobile restroom units and create a schedule so people know when and where they can access them.

He said that the showers can be stationed wherever there is a hookup to the main waterline, an access point to the City’s sewer line and an open area for the generator, describing the mobile bathrooms as a “citywide solution” to a “citywide crisis.”

He also said “this is a basic human need we’re finally meeting. This should have happened 20 years ago, but it’s here now, and we’re gonna make the most of it.”

For now, the showers will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., rotating weekly on a location schedule to be determined. Advocates are lobbying for more units to be purchased and making suggestions for locations and hours of operation.

It’s a small step that took much effort from advocates to achieve. Although progress is being made, the struggle continues for the basic human right to housing in the Fresno area and we will persevere.

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