The Social Issues of Water Pollution

Skid Row Trash

Los Angeles is the homeless capital of the nation, with more than 58,000 people living on the streets of our city. Among a list of reasons why addressing this issue should be a top priority is the fact that it has a major impact on water pollution in LA.

As a frequent volunteer on Skid Row, I am always in awe of the number of people that live in the 50 block radius. A last resort for the low-income population of Los Angeles, Skid Row is home to nearly 18,000 (of which 5,000 are living on the streets), making it the highest concentration of homeless people in the country. This means that 5,000 people have to use the streets to sleep, eat, and even go to the bathroom. Last July, it got so bad that the LA County Department of Public Health was required to remove the build up of trash and human waste along the streets and sidewalks. They came in and did a 13-day sweep, collecting nearly five tons of trash, gallons of feces and urine, and more than 81 cubic yards of waste water. Learning this was particularly upsetting to me, not only because so many people have to live in these conditions, but because all of it is ending up in our local waters.

There is some good news, though, and there is definitely something that can be done about this atrocity. The good news is that in addition to trash screens being installed on storm drains, there are also a few low-flow storm drain diversion systems in the area (at least one of which is a result of LA Waterkeeper’s Collection System settlement agreement with the City of LA!). This means that during the dry-weather season, any urban runoff (the gross stuff mentioned earlier) that enters the storm drains, will be diverted to the sewer system and then filtered and treated instead of going directly into our precious waterways. Sometimes its difficult to connect the trash you see on the sidewalk to the pollution in the ocean that ends up making us sick and destroying marine life. And when you do connect the two, you start to realize how intertwined everything is, and the direct correlation between the social and environmental issues of our community.

So what is the solution, here? Tackling the issue of homelessness head-on is first and foremost. Los Angeles currently spends $875 million in public resources to manage homelessness every year. This costs comes from law enforcement, criminal justice, and healthcare systems. What most people don’t realize is that its actually 40% less expensive to place someone in a home than to leave them on the streets. Providing our city’s homeless with permanent supportive housing is the key. This means giving them a permanent home with access to the supportive services that they need to become self sufficient. Several non profit organizations in LA already use this model, and if the city put even half of the $875 million into permanent supportive housing, our homeless would be off the streets and our water would be cleaner. In the meantime, though, Los Angeles Waterkeeper is fighting to protect our local waters through enforcement, fieldwork and community action. You can do your part, too, by volunteering with us, donating to our programs, or spreading the word about the work that we do. Learn more at

-Rachel Stich, Communications Manager

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