After weeks of being shut down, most of the restrooms at Long Beach’s winter homeless shelter were reopened Monday night, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn pledged to provide a mobile shower unit so residents don’t have to be bused elsewhere to bathe.
Hahn’s spokeswoman said Monday that the supervisor was “outraged” by the plumbing problems that had been plaguing the shelter since almost immediately after it opened on Dec. 19 at the defunct Community Hospital property.
Originally, Long Beach city officials said the annual shelter, which is at Community Hospital for the first time this year, would be able to offer new amenities like on-site showers and private restrooms for each room that holds three or four cots.
But, within a week, toilets were overflowing, causing flooding into rooms and through hallways, according to two community activists who visited the shelter on Dec. 23.
Since then, the private restrooms have been closed, leaving people to use a bank of porta-potties outside and one or two indoor restrooms, which shelter residents complained didn’t lock.
The handful of available showers were also limited to people who can’t make the shuttle trip to the city’s Multi-Service Center about 4 miles away. In past years, the city has used the MSC to offer showers for winter shelter residents because prior locations didn’t have adequate facilities, and the shelter only offered overnight stays, so residents passed through the MSC every day.
The city continued that practice this year despite showers being available at Community Hospital and residents now being allowed to stay there 24 hours. It’s unclear why.
The restrooms and showers have been a source of tension between Community Hospital’s owner, MWN Community Hospital LLC, and the city of Long Beach, which is paying $45,000 monthly to rent space for the shelter.
MWN’s primary investor, John Molina, said he’s been frustrated by what he sees as a lack of communication from Long Beach.
After MWN spent tens of thousands of dollars on emergency plumbing to resolve the flooding and clogged pipes, Molina said, he asked for a plan from the city on how to handle similar issues in the future, but he got no response.
After Long Beach Homeless Services Director Paul Duncan blamed the plumbing problems on a backlog of maintenance at the hospital, Molina went public with his complaints about the city and said the issue was actually caused by people flushing things like towels and hats down the toilets, something the Health Department later acknowledged was a contributing factor.
Molina accused the city of rushing to get the winter shelter contract signed on an abbreviated timeline and then ignoring his follow-up request for things like more security guards who could escort shelter residents to other parts of the building to use working restrooms.
“We were told it’s too expensive,” Molina said. Without communication from the city, Molina said his company, which took ownership of the Community Hospital property from Long Beach last year, had been reluctant to let people back into restrooms.
Long Beach Health Department spokesperson Jennifer Rice Epstein said Tuesday that the city believed the porta-potties and limited number of on-site restrooms were adequate for the shelter residents, “without the risk of plumbing issues.”
“That said,” she added, “We will work with the county and the property owner to provide additional services if this is what they require.”
Ultimately, MWN moved to restore access to the in-room restrooms Monday night, saying the company “welcomes any collaboration and support between the City and County.”
Hahn’s director of communications Liz Odendahl, said the portable showers should be up and running by Tuesday evening.
“The supervisor just wants to help,” she said.
Editor’s note: John Molina is also the primary investor in the parent company of the Long Beach Post. He is not involved in editorial decisions. For more information about the Post’s ownership, visit our transparency portal.