Homeless People Find Overnight Shelter In Oceanside Beach Bathrooms
Public bathrooms are making headlines these days with the national debate over which ones transgender people should be allowed to use. But they're also a hot-button issue in Oceanside, where homeless people are turning to bathrooms at the beach for shelter.
The city recently invested about $2 million in new public bathrooms at the beach and upgraded bathrooms on the pier, a popular spot for fishermen, surfers, tourists, residents and the homeless.
Oceanside City Councilman Chuck Lowery this week said he first became aware last summer that about 25 homeless people were locking themselves in temporary beach bathrooms every night.
“When our new restrooms were under construction, we had a lot of portable rental toilets out on the beach,” Lowery said. "And after about a month of hearing every day that this is happening, it became, like, ‘wow, this is another not good situation.’”
The city now locks up its beach bathrooms from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. every night.
A group of homeless people on the beach, who identified themselves only as Leeta, Nemo and Ephron, said they have had their belongings stolen so often that sometimes they take refuge in public bathrooms where they can lock the door. Even if the bathrooms are locked up at 11 p.m., Ephron said he sometimes comes back at 4 a.m. when the bathrooms open, in order to shelter somewhere warm and safe for a few hours.
Lowery said the problem has overflowed onto the pier at night.
“We have found that people are locking themselves into the restrooms here on the pier," Lowery said. "And then what happens is other people who want to use those restrooms wind up urinating or defecating right here on the pier, out in the open.”
Oceanside city staff suggested closing the pier overnight but the City Council rejected that idea. Lowery said the city is now working on collaborating with Ruby’s, the restaurant at the end of the pier, to maintain tighter security overnight.
About 18 months ago, Oceanside set up a police Homeless Outreach Team.
Officer Lonny Harper is one of two police officers on the team. He works to connect the homeless with services, but he said that can take a while for those with mental health or drug issues.
“In 18 months, my partner and I have been able to take about 30 people — give or take a couple — off the street,” Harper said.
Though the city does have rental vouchers to offer the homeless, Harper said, few landlords are willing to accept them because vacancy rates are so low they can pick and chose their renters.
Plus, with rents at an all-time high, some people are trying to survive outdoors and finding shelter wherever they can — even if it’s only in a bathroom stall.