To most of the day laborers waiting for work on 26th Street, the urine on Virgil Street can be blamed on the bolos, or drunks.

“They have no shame, they don’t care,” said a worker who preferred to remain anonymous, standing with two friends at the corner of 26th and Van Ness, waiting for cars to drive by with work offers.

On this early afternoon, there were only a handful of workers here on 26th street, where members of the Inner Mission Neighborhood Association say day laborers wander into the Virgil Street alleyway to urinate, defecate and do drugs.

For their part, these workers said, they use the public bathroom located outside the Olympian gas station down the block on Cesar Chavez Street.

A public toilet is available one block away from Virgil on Cesar Chavez St.
A public toilet is available one block away from Virgil on Cesar Chavez St.

Twenty-sixth Street is heavily patrolled by police, they added, and so those looking for work are less likely to call attention to themselves by urinating in the street.

One block along South Van Ness towards Cesar Chavez Street, the green bathroom kiosk they speak of is clearly visible: a 25-cent pay toilet open to the public.

Meena, an employee at Olympian gas station who wished to be identified by first name only, said that she sees day laborers regularly use the city-owned pay toilet. At times, however, “since there’s a lot of people and only one bathroom,” a line often forms and people get impatient and leave.

Leaning against the green kiosk for a noontime nap, Felix Cruz, 40, said that he and  most of his fellow laborers use either the Olympian bathroom or one in Garfield Park. Some, however, he said, don’t use either.

Some workers, he added, are afraid that in the time they spend waiting for the bathroom, a potential employer may drive by. He also said that many of the workers who wait on 26th come from rural communities in southern Mexico, where there is no potable water and urinating outdoors is more commonplace.

The bathroom where he napped, he said, is also used by addicts to do drugs. Homeless people sometimes sleep inside until cleaning crews show up. “So some people just don’t want to go in there,” he explained.

For Hector Valdez, coordinator of the Day Laborer Program, the issue of day laborers, urine and neighbor complaints is “the same old story”–a seemingly endless tug of war between workers who want to work, residents who want clean streets, and a City Hall that seems to have no answers.

According to Valdez, the Day Labor Program has been active in trying to address the issue of bathroom access for day laborers in the Mission. A few years back, program staff surveyed laborers and found that most businesses refused workers bathroom use if they failed to buy something. These findings led the Program–which is funded by the city–to approach City Hall in order to demand more resources to set up additional bathrooms.

Joel Loyola, a day laborer and program member involved in the bathroom campaign, said workers proposed many solutions: putting the day laborers themselves in charge of cleaning the bathrooms; equipping portable toilets with a lock and chain and making them accessible only at times when day laborers were on the street; having city employees pick them up at the end of every day so they could not be used for illicit nighttime activities.

Yet all these proposals made in 2007 fell on deaf city ears. Moreover, none seemed to please the neighborhood representatives, he said.

Valdez and Loyola said it was primarily the neighbors’ obstinacy and city inaction, that brought the campaign to a standstill in 2007.

“The real issue is one of how to coexist and live together,” said Loyola. “But they [the neighbors] don’t want to coexist–they just want us out.” Loyola claimed that at meetings, when workers would ask the neighbors what they saw as solutions, “They would say, ‘Go back to Mexico’–that was their answer. For us to go away.”

Valdez said that as long as residents refused to cooperate with any of the workers’ proposals,  City Hall felt no need  to do anything about the issue.

“The bottom line is, they [the neighbors] don’t want us in their neighborhood, even if they need the labor,” said Valdez. “No matter what we do, they just don’t want to see workers- they consider them a nuisance; they’re scared of them.”

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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