Homeless in Vancouver: Cali homeless camp wasn’t as messy as “shocking” cleanup numbers suggest

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      Reading the headline: “California Homeless Camp Cleanup Finds 250 Tons of Trash and 5,000 Needles”, you could be excused for thinking that the February 26 item on Newsweek’s website was proof of how especially filthy and messy homeless people are.

      The story, put briefly, is as follows: on February 25, officials in Orange County, California, cleared the last 700 homeless people out of an encampment covering a 4.8-kilometre stretch of land along the Santa Ana riverbed.

      The camp, which is described as being near Angel Stadium in Anaheim and not far from Disneyland, had been occupied by upwards of 1,000 homeless people for the past two years.

      Besides mentioning that the county has promised to give either a month-long motel voucher or a shelter bed to each of the evicted homeless people, the basic tenor of the Newsweek piece is that homeless encampments are superlatively messy and Orange County isn’t going to tolerate them.

      Homelessness is such a waste!

      To drive home the point (or reinforce the stereotype) that homeless people are little better than wild animals when it comes to hygiene and far worse where fouling their nest is concerned, Orange County authorities supplied Newsweek reporter Grace Guarnieri with a few eye-popping statistics from their cleanup of the encampment.

      As of February 25, cleanup crews—having begun some five days earlier—had collected 250 tons of garbage (226,796 kilograms), 1,000 pounds of human waste (453.6 kilograms) and 5,000 syringes!

      By itself, this is a whole lot of waste. But when you factor in the time frame (two years) and the number of homeless people involved (about 1,000), the quantities per-homeless-person-per-year work out as follows:

      • 114.4 kilograms of solid waste, which is less than a third of the capacity of one of the City of Vancouver’s 360-litre residential garbage bins.
      • 225 grams of human waste, which fits in a small 300-gram jam jar, with room to spare.
      • Only two-and-a-half syringes!

      When the numbers are seen in context like this, the homeless campers of Orange County, California, appear to be some of the least wasteful people in all of North America!

      By comparison, British Columbians throw away over four times as much solid waste each year—an average of 497 kilograms per person in 2015, according to the B.C. government.

      As for human waste, British Columbians do no produce any to compare.

      We do produce something euphemistically referred to as waste water, but there are no ready figures for how much of it is produced per person per year.

      But seeing as B.C. is known to dump more untreated waste water into rivers and oceans than any other province in Canada—82.3 billion litres in 2015—it’s a fair bet that each British Columbian produces far more than would fit in a 300-gram jam jar.

      I shudder to imagine what the cleanup would have been like had it been an equivalent number of B.C. residents living rough for two years in this Orange County homeless encampment!

      Instead of 226,796 kilos of solid waste, there would be over 994,000—nearly 1,000 metric tonnes! Topped with either a mountain of poop or a lumpy lake of waste water. As for discarded syringes, your guess is as good as mine—but a lot more than 5,000! 

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.