Homelessness & Technology

Some amazing solutions to a couple homeless issues, from the New York Times.

An excerpt.

This past fall, a project started called (Human) Wasteland, which maps reports of human waste throughout the city of San Francisco. Yes, a disproportionate amount of poop on the streets is not from dogs but from humans.

Some in the blogosphere tended to play this for laughs, but the reality isn’t very funny. There are thousands of homeless people in San Francisco and scant access to public bathrooms. We associate sanitation problems with the Third World, not the First, but the fact is that even in a city like this one, bursting from all its economic growth, more than 7,000 people are homeless and without places to sleep — or go to the bathroom.

Perhaps more than any other city, San Francisco loves process and, accordingly, a consortium of groups led by Hyphae Design Lab published a comprehensive “Public Toilet Project Masterplan” to design and deploy better public restrooms in the city. Design can’t solve homelessness, but a number of interesting projects like this one have emerged that offer thoughtful — albeit incremental — solutions to the problems that arise from it.

The Tenderloin Public Toilet Project (better known as the PPlanter), created by Hyphae Design Laboratory through a participatory design process, is one. It’s a cheap and mobile street urinal with sink that doubles as a planter and was built for $2,000. (As an added bonus in this drought-plagued state, the urine collected, after being filtered, is used to water the plants.) PPlanter underwent a test phase in 2103 and a second version is currently set up at a truck stop and a community outreach center in West Oakland.

The goal is still to provide this Tenderloin project as a free service, but as Hyphae’s Brent Bucknum explains, long-term maintenance continues to be the major hurdle in funding new models of urban sanitation.

“Either we need cities and economic development agencies to earmark money for public services, once again, or we need more of a ‘pay-as-you-go model,’ ” he says. “A secondary social benefit of this model would be that the project would provide a more socially universal solution for tourists, workers — and everyone else. This is just another thought, in a still very uncharted interesting new arena for urban infrastructure.”

Virginia Gardiner began her research on a waterless toilet system that turns human waste into a source of clean energy when she was a graduate student in industrial design. Today, she’s CEO of Loowatt, a London-based company that produces context-specific toilets that use a patented sealing mechanism to wrap human waste in biodegradable polymer film. The film, which lines the toilet bowl, is pulled through the mechanism when the toilet is “flushed,” enclosing the waste in a removable cartridge. The cartridge is then emptied, daily to weekly depending upon factors like location and usage patterns, into an anaerobic digester, where the waste and polymer film are converted into natural gas and fertilizer.

Retrieved January 16, 2015 from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/17/opinion/showers-on-wheels.html?ref=opinion

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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