Homeless Toilet Dispute Heads to OC Supervisors Amid Sewage Concerns

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Homeless advocates purchased and installed these porta potties near the Santa Ana River in May, before Anaheim city officials removed them.

A bathroom standoff between county officials and homeless people near Angel Stadium is heading to the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, where homeless advocates are hoping supervisors will support waiving a $2,000 application fee for a porta potty permit.

“People are defecating out in [public], and urinating. That water is going somewhere” and it goes “into our tributaries,” said Paul Leon, a former county public health nurse who founded and leads the Illumination Foundation, which provides homeless services in Orange County.

County health officials have said “multiple times: if we ever have a [tuberculosis] epidemic, a flu epidemic, a MRSA epidemic – it doesn’t matter if you live in Newport Beach, it’s gonna get to you,” Leon said.

Describing the overall public health issues around homelessness in Orange County, he said: “It’s not good. It’s a fricking time bomb.”

County officials say homeless people should use restrooms at the Courtyard shelter, more than three miles from the Santa Ana river bank encampment. But the shelter closes its doors at 8:30 p.m. and only those spending the night at the already-full shelter can use the bathrooms.

Anyone waking up in the middle of the night who needs to use the restroom “would have a problem walking several miles before they could urinate or defecate,” said homeless advocate Mohammed Aly.

Currently, the several hundred homeless people living along the riverbank use bottles, plastic bags and other improvised containers. There also are public restrooms a few blocks from the encampment, but they are closed at night.

County officials declined to comment on  the public health implications of the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River.

“We have said, and will continue to say, that the (Santa Ana River) flood control channel is not a place to live. It is not designed for, or safe for human habitation,” said county spokeswoman Carrie Braun.

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Part of the homeless encampment near the Santa Ana River, which is home to hundreds of people.

For weeks, advocates have urged Orange County supervisors, who oversee the riverbed area, homelessness and public health, to install portable restrooms until a realistic alternative is found.

The request has so far been rejected. 

So advocates raised about $1,000 to purchase three portable toilets, which they installed along the riverbank on May 13.

“It is clear that it is better to have people urinate and defecate into a portable restroom than the alternative, when the alternative is a plastic bag or a bucket,” said Aly.

He helped organize the portable restrooms with other advocates through the group he co-founded, the Orange County Poverty Alleviation Coalition, which is registered at the Santa Ana home of Dwight Smith and his wife Leia, who run the Isaiah House women’s homeless shelter.

County officials, considered the porta potties an “unauthorized use,” and vowed to remove them if the advocates didn’t.

Last Monday, two days after the porta potties were installed,  advocates moved them from the county’s riverbed property to Anaheim city land that is part of a fire training facility.

A day later,  Anaheim city officials posted a 24-hour notice seeking the restrooms’ removal. On Friday, city officials removed the porta potties, saying there was no permit, insurance, or plans to service the toilets.

“We appreciate the good intentions and share their concern for those staying along the riverbed,” city spokesman Mike Lyster said in a statement. “Because of that, we went above and beyond to see if this could be done the right way.”

“As a goodwill gesture, there will be no cost” to the porta potties’ owner for the city’s storing of the toilets until they’re picked up, Lyster said.

Aly said insurance and servicing for the porta potties has been arranged, and that he appreciates the city storing them for free and pumping them.

As for permits, the county is requiring a non-refundable $2,000 fee for advocates to seek permission to put the restrooms along the riverbed. County officials said paying the fee is no guarantee the porta potties will be approved. 

If an application is submitted, the county will “decide on approval or denial based on the [details] of the application,” said Braun. “We need all of the facts included that come with the application.”

County officials say restrooms are available at the county’s Kraemer and Courtyard shelters, both of which are at least three miles – an hour-plus walk – from the main riverbed encampment.

The Courtyard, in downtown Santa Ana, allows walk-in restroom use during the day for people who sign in, Braun said. But at night, the shelter closes its doors at 8:30 p.m. and only allows those who are staying inside to use the restroom. And the Courtyard is already full or near capacity each night, taking it off the table for night-time restroom use by riverbed dwellers.

The Courtyard’s capacity is 400 people, and it had at least 399 people staying each night last Monday through Thursday, according to the county.

The Kraemer shelter, in Anaheim, does not allow walk-up restroom use, but does provide restrooms for the up to 100 people who are referred into its programs and stay at the shelter full-time. The recently-opened shelter has been steadily filling up, with just 33 vacancies left as of Thursday, and is also several miles from the main riverbed encampment.

“It’s really disingenuous for the county” to be saying people at the riverbed should be using the shelter restrooms, Aly said.

Advocates want the Board of Supervisors to allow restrooms at the riverbed, and waive the $2,000 application fee.

The fee is non-refundable, and Aly said if they pay it they might be “wasting $2,000” for an application that could very well be rejected.

Advocates are mobilizing to speak at the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday in support of restroom access for the riverbed homeless population.

County supervisors, in addition to having jurisdiction over the riverbed property, are the lead elected officials responsible for addressing homelessness and public health in Orange County.

But the issue isn’t on their agenda for Tuesday, which could limit their ability to take action. County attorneys say any decision by supervisors to waive the fee would have to take place in open session, unless it’s part of a litigation settlement.

If supervisors do want to waive the fee or take action on the restrooms issue, they could either take it up as an emergency item under Rule 26 of their board rules, or schedule a special meeting to take action, as long as they give at least 24 hours of advanced notice.

Advocates say they will keep pushing for restroom access.

“We will press forward if the county does not” provide restrooms or allow them, Aly said.

“It’s beyond a question that homeless people deserve access to basic sanitation, that homeless people have no other alternative than to live in the riverbed currently,” and at least until there’s better alternative “their needs have to be met. And advocates will meet that need if the county refuses to.”

The supervisors’ meeting begins Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the county Hall of Administration in Santa Ana.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Cynthia Ward

    ….and once again the ability to have a reasoned conversation here is killed by the mud flinging that occurs with regularity between the SAME commenters. Voice of OC is supposed to have a policy on this nonsense, where is the admin enforcement? Enough.

    • verifiedsane

      I gather this is what the liberal peanut gallery says when they have nothing else to contribute JUST BLAME EVERYONE Indiscriminately….I and others call out justanon for what they are, and for what they say…Your nothing comment that falls upon deaf ears has been duly noted…. 🙂

      • LFOldTimer

        Well said. Verfied.

        You gotta love these do-gooders, some of whom live in glass houses.

        Justanon is the problem. The little perp follows me around like a case of the shingles. Always on the attack. Rarely offers an independent opinion without attacking others who offer legitimate opinions on the topic at hand. Justanon brings the civility on the board down to zero. A real loser. Cynthia should direct the comments specifically where they’re deserved.

        • verifiedsane

          Justanon is the anarchist Left’s appointed village idiot by proxy….those that support his hateful spewing, baseless attacks, & reckless ignorance are no better…

          • LFOldTimer

            Justanon adds nothing to the comment board but venom and vitriol.

            It would be different if Diaper Child provided an opinion. But chasing people around the board and just attacking them for their valid opinions is not adding to the value of the board. It only subtracts.

          • justanon

            Wrong again.

            I FACT CHECKED YOU.

            And you and your lickspittle CONFUSE being fact-checked with “hateful spewing, baseless attacks, & reckless ignorance ” and “venom and vitriol”.

            You attacked Spitzer, Do and the city of Santa Ana without knowing the facts.
            Shame on you for doing it, but most of all for NOT ADMITTING IT!

    • LFOldTimer

      Cynthia, mind if I ask why your previous post that complimented one of my comments on illegal immigration was deleted?

      Did the self-appointed board police disapprove??? 😉

  • #Respect USA ??

    I don’t know what the solution is, but the more comfortable you make things the more ‘homeless’ will congregate there. I use the term loosely because we know many are out there by choice. You should not be allowed to set up camp wherever you want. Some of us want to enjoy the outdoors without being hit up for money, be afraid of getting mugged and the smell is really bad. I have donated toiletries and given money to homeless and outreaches so I’m all for helping those that truly need the help not the ones who are choosing to be out there to escape reality or responsibility.

  • LFOldTimer

    At least the City of Anaheim is being reasonable.

    How would Spitzer, et. al. like to walk 3 miles to take a leak or a dump? ha.

    The bar they raise is impossible to hurdle. Yet if the homeless defecate in public they cry “This could result is a major health crisis to our county”. Obviously putting outdoor toilets in the area would solve the problem. But the Supes are so bone-headed and stubborn they refuse to use their common sense.

    Supe Nelson had a splendid idea: Put temporary 200-bed homeless shelters on unused County land in Huntington Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana to relieve the pressure. But oh no!!! The other Supes don’t want no stinking homeless shelter in THEIR districts!!! Phony hypocrites.


    • justanon


      “Put temporary 200-bed homeless shelters on unused County land in Huntington Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana to relieve the pressure ….The other Supes don’t want no stinking homeless shelter in THEIR districts”

      How can you make such a BALD-FACE LIE when in the article it says that Santa Ana HAS a 400 bed, temporary shelter at the bus depot which opened just a few months ago????

      This is ANOTHER example of you SLIMING a Supervisor based on BULLSH*T!

      I don’t want to defend these Supervisors, but they should ONLY be criticized based on the FACTS and not on some gas-bag’s wildly false accusations.

      And FYI:
      Santa Ana has also approved two new homeless shelters. Santa Ana is not the problem.


      • LFOldTimer

        You remind me of a rabid dog I once knew.

        You spend your time chasing me around on this comment board to spew more hostile vitriol. Rarely do you offer your own opinions. But you specialize in condemning mine. lol. What a tool you are!!!

        You seem so smitten with the supervisors lately. Are you going to apply for a job as an EA or something? lol. You defend Spitzer, the bible boy cuffer, like he walks on water!!! lol. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. It fits your personality. lol.

        Besides, Santa Ana is in Do’s district, not your hero Spitzer’s district. lol. Do slept at the bus depot shelter during campaign season. He loves the homeless. So he shouldn’t have a problem putting unused county land in Santa Ana to good use as a temporary 200-bed homeless shelter.

        What do you have against the homeless anyway? Are you one of the high-brow elite??? LOL!

        And it would be a GRAND idea to put 200-bed homeless shelters in IRVINE and HUNTINGTON BEACH, as Supe Nelson proposed. What you do you have against that? Do you live in either of those cities? Or do you live in Santa Ana? I suspect so. That’s why this topic gets you so angry. I bet you’re a NIMBY – aren’t ya??? LOL!

        You have a lot of anger inside. Maybe you should volunteer at a homeless food kitchen to mellow out. I bet you would make a great table busser or dish washer. It would be good exercise for you to vent your anger in a positive way. Just a constructive suggestion. 🙂

        Oh, this will be my last comment to you. My parents always taught me not to feed the bears. It only encourages them to act out.

        I choose to ignore you from this point onward.

        Have a nice life.

        • justanon

          Again, you’ve been caught spreading LIES and instead of admitting it and moving on, you choose to attack me.

          Homelessness is a tough issue and it isn’t made any easier by KNOW-NOTHING GAS BAG’S SPREADING FALSE STORIES.

          Don’t accuse me of being against the homeless because all you’ve done over and over on this blog is COMPLAIN, P*SS AND MOAN about every step forward for the homeless.

          I suggest YOU GET TO WORK on your 20 bed shelter ‘plan’ in YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD and stop SPREADING STUPID LIES about the Supervisors.

          But we all know that you’re more of a WHINER than a DOER, LOL!!!!

          • verifiedsane

            And the hate filled anarchist/communist Diaper boy goes whaa whaa whaa all the home……end of story 🙂

          • justanon

            Yes little Joey McCarthy, facts ARE an “anarchist/communist” plot!!!!!!

          • verifiedsane

            Did you actually have to open a history book to find that ignorant response Diaper Boy?………. LMAO

          • justanon

            Too close to the truth for you, lil’ Joey???

          • verifiedsane

            Diaper Boy, you wouldn’t know truth if it joined your head up your ar*e and whistled Dixie…. 🙂

        • verifiedsane

          This is obviously Diaper Boy’s only tragic attempt at having a social life….Justanon and their shadow puppet anarchist cohorts must get very lonely and desperate sitting around spewing their hate filled racist & Misandry propaganda to the goldfish bowl 24/7…..pretty sad stuff actually!

          • LFOldTimer

            Yeah, you nailed it. Very sad. Full of venom and intolerance for the differing opinion of others. UC Berkeley material.

            I won’t respond to diaper child’s vitriol in the future. Not worth my time. I’d rather have interesting discussions with other intelligent commenters who accept differences of opinion and can emotionally handle a debate.

            Trying to have a worthwhile discussion with justanon is like trying to reason with a wounded badger. It just ain’t going to happen.

            I suggest we ignore diaper child going forward.

          • justanon

            Ha, ha, ha, my comments have nothing to do with “intolerance for the differing opinion of others” but rather YOUR TOTAL DISREGARD FOR THE TRUTH AND THE FACTS.

            You have written that both Supervisor Spitzer and Supervisor Do wouldn’t want homeless shelters in “THEIR” districts, when in FACT they both HAVE homeless shelters in “THEIR” districts.

            “Supe Nelson had a splendid idea: Put temporary 200-bed homeless shelters on unused County land in Huntington Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana to relieve the pressure. But oh no!!! The other Supes don’t want no stinking homeless shelter in THEIR districts!!! Phony hypocrites.”


  • verifiedsane

    The BoS showing their true colors once again…..I guess they expect the
    without home population to just d*fecate where ever they can find an
    open spot…..not only is this inhumane…it creates a serious public
    health situation….Are the BoS so enamored with themselves, that they
    can’t even smell the p**p through the trees….