Every time you read a new article or simply drive down a local street, it seems pretty clear that the homeless problem is getting worse. Homelessness affects thousands of people every year, and many cities can’t keep up with the demand for affordable housing. Because of this, many unhoused people have no alternative but to live on the street. Some people decide to live in groups so that they can achieve a measure of safety. People who decide to live together in groups are creating communities called homeless encampments.

A homeless encampment is a site where at least two homeless people have created temporary shelter for themselves. The encampment is always built on top of property that does not belong to them. This scenario clearly causes a lot of grief and stress within the community, and for good reason.

Homeless encampments are unsanitary

Probably one of the biggest reasons that homeless encampments are not a good idea is because they’re extremely unsanitary. They require special cleaning because they’re filled with biohazardous waste. In 2017, there was a major outbreak of hepatitis A within the homeless population living in encampments in San Diego, Santa Cruz and L.A. Counties. Hepatitis A is a pathogen that’s usually spread through food that’s been contaminated. Within the homeless community, the virus was easily spread from person to person. Hepatitis A is transmitted from human feces to the mouth. Because homeless encampments residents do not have access to toilets, bathrooms to wash, or any place to clean their clothes, they are the most at risk since they can’t practice good hygiene.

People living in homeless encampments all touch the same items. They share utensils, blankets and everything else they need to survive. This makes the spread of diseases like hepatitis A almost inevitable. If those people then go and touch other items handled by the rest of the public, you’ll be looking at a much larger outbreak. In the case of the hepatitis A outbreak, doctors and scientists have said that it would stay in California for several years before being brought under control. 

What is biohazardous waste?

Biohazardous waste is waste that contains airborne or bloodborne pathogens. These pathogens could be like the aforementioned hepatitis A, a coronavirus strain, pneumonia, or any of the many other types of microorganisms that cause serious diseases in humans.

At homeless encampments, pathogens are found in biohazardous waste like human waste, rotting food, animal feces, urine, bodily fluids, drug paraphernalia, and tons of other items. Add in the lack of sanitization and the impossibility of adapting good hygiene practices, and you have a perfect storm for disease spread.

What does homeless encampment cleanup entail?

One of the first steps of homeless encampments cleaning is breaking down any remaining structures that may still be at the site. The structures could include lean-tos, tents, blankets, and any other items that were left behind. The cleaners will separate this debris based on whether it contains biohazardous waste or not. Anything that contains biohazardous waste will be placed into special bins that have been built to hold and seal in dangerous waste.

Once the camp has been cleared of all debris, the cleaners will go through and remove every bit of biohazardous waste, placing it into the aforementioned bins.

Next, a complete washdown of the camp will take place. Cleaners, solvents, and deodorizers approved by OSHA will be used to sanitize the space and make sure that there are no remaining pathogens that could cause harm to anyone entering the area. This part of the cleanup is extremely critical because it will help prevent disease from spreading through the community at large.

Once cleaning has been done, all of the biohazardous waste will be taken to a waste treatment facility where it will be destroyed.

How will the cleaners remain safe?

The cleaners will remain safe by wearing PPE gear that’s designed to protect them from anything that they encounter during homeless encampment cleanup. The coveralls that cover them from head to toe will help prevent them from being contaminated by liquids and other forms of waste as they shovel their way through the site. Shoe covers will help keep their feet protected. Special puncture-resistant gloves will help protect their fingers and hands when they pick up sharp objects like syringes and needles. Face masks and respirators will help protect them from airborne pathogens.

Who is responsible for paying for homeless encampment cleanup?

Homeless encampment cleanup is the responsibility of whoever owns the property that the homeless encampment was placed on. This could mean that the responsibility will either fall to the government, to private citizens, or to businesses. If you’re concerned or confused about the ownership of the land where the encampment you’re inquiring about is located, reach out to your local authorities to see if they can give you some guidance. If you’re still not having any luck, give us a call. We can try and help you figure out whose responsibility it is.

If the cleaning of an encampment turns out to be your responsibility, check with your insurance policy to see if you have coverage for homeless encampment cleanup. Many residential and commercial policies do cover at least a portion of this type of cleanup.

Homelessness is not going away anytime soon. Homeless encampments make it easy to form makeshift communities for people who don’t have homes, but they ultimately endanger their occupants as well as the broader community at large. They provide temporary shelter but expose their occupants to incredible risks. If you are looking to have a homeless encampment cleared up near you, give us a call so that we can help.