Don’t single out homeless as polluters

Freedom New Mexico

The homeless are harming Mother Earth. That’s the message of a Colorado Springs woman who filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency against city government. She blames city officials for failing to prevent or manage pollution caused by those who live in shanties and tents.

Homeless people harm the environment, for sure, and the mega recession has increased their numbers. But the homeless aren’t unique. Each and every living animal, human or otherwise, alters and pollutes the earth.

A bear defecates in the woods. Beavers build dams that cause floods that kill and displace other wildlife; they chop down trees that are important to birds. Bird manure makes some places uninhabitable by humans or other creatures. A recent study of E. coli in Colorado’s Fountain Creek discovered pigeon droppings as the cause. Termites are among the world’s biggest producers of methane, listed by the EPA as the worst so-called “Greenhouse gas.”

Though homeless people harm the environment, it’s hard to imagine they do so anywhere near as much as people who live in homes. Nearly all people in homes consume fossil fuels or natural gas for heating and cooling. The homeless don’t have heating and air conditioning. Most who live in homes own cars, which burn fossil fuels and pollute the air. Most homeless do not. All people with homes, like the homeless, produce excrement and trash.

Janis Heuberger, a real estate agent who filed the EPA complaint, says the homeless defecate and urinate in and along the creek and strew their garbage about. That’s significantly different than people with homes who use toilets and pay for garbage removal. Her concerns are reasonable, and it’s reasonable for city government to somehow get involved. It’s important to keep our creeks clean.

We cannot, however, blame only the people living outside for putting raw feces and urine into creeks. Millions of other people have also polluted creeks with excrement, and much more of it than the homeless have.

Individuals and non-profit agencies do a great job helping the homeless. We must continue the fight. It’s up to all of us, including those who live outside, to keep our nation’s rivers, lakes and creeks as clean as possible.