Sanitation for the Homeless in the US - example from Seattle

  • markllo
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Sanitation for the Homeless in the US

Note by moderator: A related thread about sanitation for the homeless in the US is here:
forum.susana.org/180-urban-informal-sett...e-homeless-in-the-us

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I live a few blocks from some camps in Seattle and have put out some kits with simple 5 gallon porta pottis. Very low tech but I don't need anyone's permission to put them in (an unfortunate requirement) and they are relatively simple to maintain. They last about a week for 5 or 6 people assuming people do some of their business when they are not in the camp.

I'm using them as a springboard to get this issue local attention, plus I get to help a few people out of the thousands in unsanctioned encampments that do not have minimal sanitation.
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  • canaday
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Re: Sanitation for the Homeless in the US

Hi Markllo,

Did you see the Minimalist UDDT that I mentioned above. I just wanted to comment that the latest version is on my blog in English and Spanish:
inodoroseco.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-free-...ist-uddt-part-1.html
inodoroseco.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-free-...ist-uddt-part-2.html
inodoroseco.blogspot.com/2013/11/un-inod...o-que-cualquier.html

Thanks for your help to the homeless.

Best wishes,
Chris Canaday

Conservation Biologist and EcoSan Promoter
Omaere Ethnobotanical Park
Puyo, Pastaza, Ecuador, South America
inodoroseco.blogspot.com
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  • markllo
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Re: Sanitation for the Homeless in the US

I've been spending 2-3 hours a week in one of the local encampments in Seattle. I have 5 toilets deployed, and thought they are being used and they are fairly simple units people still have problems operating them. I've found that homeless camps have unique challenges.

Village type solutions where there is any training at all are not feasible. If you see an area with many tents you are actually looking at a number of camps, some individual campers along with loose communities of a few tents together. It is naive to think that this population is going to adapt to complex composting solutions, the population is only nominally motivated and their is not a social structure to use disseminate directions to. There are also many people coming through the camps transiently using whatever facility that is provided. The solution must be either something that is either a simple flush or no flush at all.

I'm looking at the possibility of a manually operating recirculating toilet. Currently the only ones I can find online are made for locomotives, but because of that they appear to be fairly robust and the manual pump on top should generate confusion. If the camp is within 65 feet of so of a road a traditional honey bucket type toilet, though someone retrograde in the perception of some, is as simple operationally as possible.
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  • markllo
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Re: Sanitation for the Homeless in the US

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From numbers I've seen the there are are more homeless on the U.S. West Coast than other parts of the country. Interestingly these issues are happening in very liberal cities who are working hard to find solutions. In Seattle there has been a huge population boom that has caused a huge spike in housing prices that has caused a sharp decrease in marginal housing. There are now people living in tents all over the city. There is a lot of monetary and political capital being spent on this but this is will take years to work through.

Until you solve these problems there will be a large population of people lacking basic sanitation. I'll pose 2 separate problems that are getting different levels of attention in Seattle.

1. People "living on the streets" who do not have easy access to public toilets. There are public toilets being installed in Seattle that provide some relief here. Carol can provide more background than I can on the storied history of these.

2. People living in encampments (this is the really new thing in the past few years). A large number of people have setup camp on public land, often next to the freeways owned by the State Department of transportation. This is where the system has broken down as they are in legal limbo in an area where there does not appear to be agreement on jurisdiction. There is a also a notion that providing sanitation will encourage more people to camp on public land. Many of these encampments are in places where it would be fairly simple to provide unglamorous Honey Buckets. Other places (including a 2 mile stretch underneath I-5 called "The Jungle") are more difficult to service with traditional portable solutions. This is where there is a need for some original thinking.

It is important to note that the encampments are very lose collections of people with high amounts of intravenous drug use, mental illness and generally low motivation to be socially compliant when provided a toilet of any kind of complexity. I've setup simple five gallon porta pottis in privacy tents and find that a toilet will often not be used correctly, then when other people come upon the toilet that was not flushed properly it won't be used until someone flushes the waste properly.

One thing that can be done is to encourage local health authorities to accept homeless sanitation as as part of their core mission. It is unacceptable that there are hundreds or even thousands of people living in a county or municipality without basic sanitation, and it is the responsibility of the Board of Health to acknowledge this. In Seattle / King County the Board of Health includes both members of the City and County Councils. I'm attaching a two minute comment I gave at the last Seattle/King County Board of Health meeting that led to the issue being put on the Department of Health's agenda. We'll see where things go from here.

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Re: Sanitation for the Homeless in the US

Dear Mikkel and Mark,

Thank you for sharing useful and interesting information.

Mark: You say:"There is a also a notion that providing sanitation will encourage more people to camp on public land." Does that mean that the municipal departments will not provide sanitation facilities to them?

Your attachment, along with the photos therein, is interesting. Just one query: How is the sewage ultimately disposed off?

Regards,

F H Mughal

F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
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  • markllo
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Re: Sanitation for the Homeless in the US

1. There are a few sanctioned camps that sanitation is provided, but there are large swaths unsanctioned camps where there is no formal sanitation.

2. Yes, I do an weekly evacuation run. I had a naive notion early on that the residents do this but it was not realistic. Partially it is due to the nature of the people in the encampments and is non-trival to find a place dispose of the waste properly even if someone takes the initiative, Also with this type of toilet at least for me it is hard to empty the contents into another toilet without some residual splash. In my basement toilet I can mop up after I am done, but even if the residents took it upon themselves my guess is that they would soon wear out whatever welcome they had at local gas stations and other places that they also use.

In an urban setting residents do have options outside of the camps that they can use opportunistically, but these options only go so far. One finds containers of open feces along with bags that appear to contain the same.
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Re: Sanitation for the Homeless in the US

In the case I am working on we are in the middle of the city, about a mile from downtown and I don't think a pit toilet would be appropriate).

The issue is mostly political, 70-80 percent of he camps could be serviced by simple "Honey bucket" chemical toilets, but the political capital is being put into finding a better place for people (a good thing if this can be done). Meanwhile there is no effort to provide sanitation for the people where they are.

The toilets I use are are cheap and I can put them up without asking permission.
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Re: Seattle Homeless toilets article

This was posted this week about some work I have been doing in honor of World Toilet Day:
www.realchangenews.org/2017/11/15/one-ma...ple-just-drop-bucket
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Re: Seattle Homeless toilets article

Thanks for posting this article about your work. That's pretty amazing that you do all this volunteer work to help homeless people in Seattle! How many hours per week or per month do you donate?

So this is how your system works:

The final design is elegant in its simplicity. Lloyd buys a bucket, a lid shaped like a toilet seat and black trash bags. He lines the bucket with the trash bag and fills the bag with either a mix of chemicals (also available online) or kitty litter. He switched to kitty litter because the chemicals were more difficult for homeless people to replace and both substances achieved the same goal.

“You want the fluids to not be fluid,” Lloyd explained.

That set-up works well inside a tent, which he finds women camping outside prefer because they don’t have to leave their shelter in the middle of the night.

Folks use the restroom, tie off the bag and throw it away.


Do I understand right that each bag is only used once? Where is it thrown away to? I assume there is no rubbish collection service in those camps either?
Seems a bit similar to the concept of peepoo bags, although they were much smaller and were biodegradable (we have discussions about peepoo bags here on the forum; just put it into the search field if interested).

Has your work been recongnised in any way yet?

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Elisabeth

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  • canaday
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Re: Seattle Homeless toilets article

Hi,

Throwing excrement, plastic, chemicals, and kitty litter into the garbage is not very ecological or sustainable. Please have a look at the Minimalist UDDT that I describe in the links I gave above. It is considerably less expensive (almost cost-free) and permits returning nutrients to the soil.

Best wishes,
Chris Canaday

Conservation Biologist and EcoSan Promoter
Omaere Ethnobotanical Park
Puyo, Pastaza, Ecuador, South America
inodoroseco.blogspot.com
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  • markllo
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Re: Seattle Homeless toilets article

The users control how whether to replace the bags every time or not depending on what they do and there personal preferences. The litter will keep them in pretty good shape for a few uses but some users like to replace them every time.

I spend more time on other things involved in keeping camps clean and reaching out to people, I still hand out toilets on request. It's not the amount of time but the being there over a long period.

The city does have a program to pick up garbage that has been put in bags in the camps I work in. This is important and another aspect of camp sanitation that needs more attention. If you can have normal garbage flow then you can have a way to get toilet waste disposed of.

I've had some informal recognition and the people who need to know in the City are aware of what I'm doing.
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Re: Seattle Homeless toilets article

The UDDT is an interesting idea, but I am working with a population that I cannot train for more than the simplest approach that my toilets use. There is a high degree of opiate use and a the people tend to not be into anything that requires the kind of compliance the UDDT requires. Before this I put out chemical toilets and that I would service. Even in their simplicity they would not be correctly and they would become soiled in ways I prefer not to describe

Everything I do is compared to doing nothing. The environment that the people live in is unsustainable as well, but I am just doing what can be done with minimal resources.
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