Pooped Out Waterways? Don’t Try Blaming It On Homeless Poopsters

This scene was created by affordablehousingaction.org and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
This is what homelessness looks like.

From an individual point of view, the above picture reflects something that is practiced regularly in order to maintain good health. From a broader community point of view, it can be mismanaged and become dangerously unhealthy. Indeed, building sewage systems in the 19th century helped stop deadly diseases such as cholera.

Some communities that are facing growing numbers of people who are unhoused have decided to close public toilets in hopes that the unhoused will ‘go away’. Tough to ‘go’ anywhere useful when there is no well managed, sanitary place to ‘go’. We’re talking about human feces here if you haven’t already guessed. Human and many kinds of animal feces can be a health hazard, depending on how they are managed.

There’s a smart-ass comment that means ‘belabouring the obvious.’: “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

Just so. It does. Alas, it’s impractical to protect ourselves from those kinds of animal dangers much beyond beyond teaching children what not to put in their mouths. And never mind the bears (scarce), what about the chipmunk scampering along your hedge?

But let’s go back to the human side of things pictured above. How much of this kind of normal human behaviour must graciously be acknowledged, and how much should be stamped out as a health hazard? Recently we’ve reported on efforts to clear encampments along rivers on the grounds that human habitation on riverbanks is endangering downstream communities1.

True? The article linked below points out that there are few scientific investigations regarding this question, and a study would be useful. The researchers surveyed people who are homeless to find out about their pooping practices.

If there is anything surprising in the survey responses, it is the shared social concern about safely disposing of poop and the methods used to do it.

One important conclusion of the study: it would seem to be a significant mistake for a community to extrapolate the observed behaviour of one homeless person in order to understand the behaviour of everyone else who is unhoused. Read more at ScienceDirect: Assessing the defecation practices of unsheltered individuals and their contributions to microbial water quality in an arid, urban watershed


  1. Try: Fresno’s Unhoused Saved(?) From Toxic Slop Twixt Cup And Lip