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[whitespace] Homeless advocates push public showers

Los Gatos--Homeless advocates are planning a push for public showers in the downtown area, and possibly public toilets.

Leading the charge is Rosemary Bitterman, a member of the Interfaith Council of Los Gatos, who's hoping to get the town to chip in $2,000 to $3,000 for showers, possibly in the Neighborhood Center.

"The homeless people asked for it," says Bitterman, who has gathered about 65 signatures on a petition for public showers downtown. "We talked to them about what would be a big improvement, and they said that would be the number one thing." Town employees, she adds, would also be able to use the showers.

But Bitterman, who says she plans to bring up the idea at an upcoming Town Council meeting, has her work cut out for her if she wants to town to embrace the idea.

Town officials, while not necessarily opposed to the idea of public showers, are skittish about all the extra baggage showers would drop on their doorstep, such as liability and security, and say that it's a responsibility best taken on by the churches.

But the churches, Bitterman says, already shoulder a great deal of responsibility. A shower was made available at St. Luke's church several years ago, but access privileges were yanked after some users left the water running and caused extensive water damage.

"The town isn't doing anything at all, and we're trying to get people to think about the issue," she said. "Not every single thing should be on the churches. This is all stuff that's all very low-cost and the benefits are huge."

When Bitterman approached Mayor Jan Hutchins about the idea, Hutchins says he urged her to bring the idea up during the oral communications period of a Town Council meeting, but also cautioned her that it was likely the town wouldn't be able to do anything.

Community Services director Regina Falkner says the biggest issues will be how the town will pay for the project, and if the community can be sold on the idea. No suggestions have come up at Community Services Commission meetings yet, she said, but the commission has handed out Community Development Block Grants to groups that work with homeless in the past. But with the March 5 deadline for applications looming, Falkner says she hasn't seen any proposals yet.

Bitterman, who stresses that she's still in the early stages of her effort, says she's optimistic about rounding up community support.

Jo Greiner, another homeless advocate and Interfaith member, says she was contacted by the Rotary Club, which had expressed an interest in getting involved in local homeless programs and expressed an interest in backing the shower proposal. Greiner says she plans to contact other local service clubs about getting involved with homeless programs.
Jeff Kearns

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