A Virgil Street resident uses wood shavings to cover the area used as a public bathroom.

A Virgil Street resident uses wood shavings to cover the area used as a public bathroom.

By HÉLÈNE GOUPIL

Connie Weber, a retiree who has lived in the Mission since 1939, pointed to a corner between her neighbor’s house and a garage on Virgil, an alley between 25th and 26th Streets. Three-foot streaks stain the wall and spill onto the ground as evidence of an on-going neighborhood problem: day laborers who use their street as a public bathroom.

“They hide in the cubbyhole, some people dump there,” said Gene Baptista who owns the house and garage and stopped to greet Weber.

Day Laborers Respond: See here

It’s a problem that has long plagued urban communities–residents who want clean streets and visitors who have no place to relieve themselves. In the end, it pits residents against visitors and the experience of the Inner Mission Community Association offers a look at how frustration builds.

Virgil Street on a quiet afternoon.

Virgil Street on a quiet afternoon.

In the nine years the men have been congregating on 26th Street, the association has reported the problem to the police, talked to District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s office and asked for a surveillance camera. According to Weber, the city put up the latter at 26th and Shotwell streets approximately four months ago but it no longer works—a fact she reminded police of at a recent meeting.

Renee Saucedo of La Raza Centro Legal said the organization tried to respond to residents’ concerns in 1990 by opening a temporary day labor center at 17th and Bryant, 17 blocks away. But employers continued to recruit at 26th and César Chávez, and workers continued to congregate there.

The neighborhood association of sixty residents still wishes to move the workers who wait for work along 26th Street nine blocks up on the other side of Highway 280.

Luis Marrufo, a volunteer at La Raza Centro Legal, said, “That’s not our people. We have restrooms here, there’s no reason for them to use the bathroom out there.”

When asked about possible solutions, Joel Ajuiar, who works in job development at La Raza Centro Legal, said residents needed to look at the big picture and to take into consideration the recent increase in homelessness.

“I know it’s an issue with homeless people but they need to defecate somewhere,” he said.

Instead of suggesting an immediate solution for Shotwell neighbors, he pointed to a Los Angeles city ordinance that requires big box home improvement stores to provide shelter, drinking water, and toilets for day laborers. San Francisco should consider doing something similar, Ajuiar said.

For their part, the police also had few immediate solutions. Officer R. Salvador at the Mission police station said officers see a lot of intoxicated people in that area and they are a difficult problem to eliminate.

“Along with intoxication comes urinating,” he said.

“You can’t pull someone because of what you think he may have done, you can monitor them for a while though. The captain has added more foot patrols and with more patrols, you get more visuals,” Salvador said.

Weber and others say that despite their efforts, the men have become increasingly problematic.

“Some are really sweet but the lion’s share of them cause problems, and if you say that and you’re not marginalized, you’re called a racist,” said Shotwell Street resident Erica Levin, who is in charge of the association.

Some residents have found their own solutions—albeit temporary.

“I run them off all the time,” said Mario Diaz.

Weber’s son, Craig, installed a wire fence by their garage to discourage people from relieving themselves.

Portable bathrooms might seem like one solution, but neighbors inadvertently experienced a test of that solution when some went up on a construction site a few years ago. They became portable bordellos for nearby prostitutes and Weber asked the city to remove them.

Saucedo said installing bathrooms for day laborers at Oak and Divisadero streets where she heard similar complaints from residents regarding public urinating has been a success.

“We’d still like to place some bathrooms on 26th and César Chávez,” Saucedo said. They would be locked at night and cleaned by city officials so residents wouldn’t have to worry about attracting bad elements, she added.

For the time being, Levin is focusing on getting community members to know each other. At a recent neighborhood meeting, she suggested residents organize a clean-up day alongside day laborers.

Weber’s husband, who passed away two years ago, used to tell her not to get so involved because one of these days, she’d get shot. But Weber persists.

“I’d say if that’s my destiny, then that’s my destiny,” Weber said.