Advocates say portable toilet waste dumped near New Orleans homeless encampments for months

Published: Jul. 21, 2023 at 11:30 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Since at least May, flies and the smell of human excrement have plagued New Orleans homeless encampments because portable toilets set up for the unhoused have not been cleaned properly.

“The current contractor who services the port-a-potties, when servicing them, shovels out the solid and semi-solid waste onto the ground in the encampment next to the port-a-pottie instead of bagging it up and taking it away,” Angela Owczarek with the Travelers Aid Society of Greater New Orleans said.

Per emails, Owczarek shared with FOX8, on May 24, Taylor Diles, New Orleans’ Environmental Health Coordinator, was made aware that Owczarek and other social workers noticed that the portable toilets had diapers, pads and rags covered in fecal matter and urine.

Camp residents complained that the waste would attract flies and odors would linger for days throughout the encampment.

Emails Diles said that United Rentals is responsible for maintaining the portable toilets, and Owczarek says a contract issue is why the contractor won’t properly dispose of the waste.

“If the city cared about the health and safety in encampments due to things like trash and germ transfer, which I don’t believe are silly concerns, they can address those concerns in ways that are compassionate and humane,” Owczarek said.

An email to Owczarek from Dile on July 18 said that the city’s Sanitation Department is working on installing garbage cans near encampments so that United Rentals could dispose of the portable toilet waste. Diles also says Sanitation agreed to service the cans daily.

FOX 8 reached out to Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Office for more information about the issue but have not heard back. Owczarek says she wants to address the issue at the city council’s Quality of Life committee meeting on July 24.

“It is much more uncomfortable to live in poverty than it is to see it. I think whenever we think of any ordinance any action, we have to remember the people who will experience it most are the people living in it,” she said.

Owczarek will join Nate Fields, Director of the Office of Homeless Services and Strategy, the New Orleans Health Department and other advocates for a Local Homeless Conditions Panel during Monday’s committee meeting. Council members will also talk about Ordinance Cal. No. 34,308 would increase penalties for people giving food to homeless people near overpasses, highways and encampments.

The ordinance says handing out food would lead to litter, pests and a decrease in quality of life for people who live in the encampments.

“In the past year we have seen a huge rise in our unhoused population especially in our street homeless population, which is those living in the streets, not our shelter systems,” Sara Parks, Executive Director of Grace at the Greenlight, said.

Parks’ non-profit helps provide food, clothing and other resources to the city’s growing unhoused population. She says with the rising cost of living and the lack of affordable housing, city leaders should focus more on compassionate solutions to help those most in need.

“Our unhoused need sustenance. They are living on the streets trying to survive daily,” Parks said. “While there are some organizations like mine and a few others that are doing what they can do feed people, the reality is there is not enough services for the need that there is, especially on weekends and holidays when some organizations are not open.”

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