Some Neighbors Say Bucket Toilets Prolong Encampments

Published at Fix Homelessness

Crews cleared thousands of pounds of trash along Green River Road in unincorporated King County last month. It was not an official sweep, so most of the RVs and homeless that left came right back.  For now, they’re being allowed to stay.  

We checked in Thursday night to see how people were doing. More than ten vehicles and RVs have returned, and there are now several tents set up along the side of the road. 

Holly Morales says she’s pleasantly surprised that King County is accommodating the campers this time around. She lives in an RV and says that for the first time at this location, county crews distributed toilet buckets and mini pop up tents for privacy. 

But this is not what some neighbors wanted. They told me off camera that this will enable people to stay even longer. And some question where all the waste is going to go. 

Dean Aldrich is CEO of Valor Soccer, which uses a field right next to the encampment. He says, “The water source for homes around here and their wells are contaminated because of the feces.”  

I reached out to several agencies, including the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is now responsible for outreach, as well as to Executive Dow Constantine’s office to find out if this is actually a new county program. So far, no response. But the county website does give instructions on how to use a pail as a toilet during an emergency.  

Even with loosening Covid protocols, King County is still operating under guidance from the health department that says encampments should not be removed during a pandemic. They also cite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the last update on that agency’s website was in February. So it’s unclear when there will be any real progress on Green River Road. 

Councilmember Reagan Dunn’s homeless encampment removal legislation is still winding its way through the full council.  “We will never solve this problem, it will only get worse if we don’t have this comprehensive solution to this set of problems,” he says.  

Meanwhile, outreach workers spent weeks trying to convince people to get off the streets and accept shelter before this clean up. But many refused—including Morales, who says tiny houses and other acceptable housing are not available. Morales says, “They need to stop telling people that they’re going to put us in housing and all that because there’s none.” 

She says for now they’re staying hunkered down and the bucket toilets are better than nothing.