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Assessing the Contribution of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness to Human Fecal Contamination in the San Diego River Watershed

Project Overview

The intent of this project is to properly document the amount of fecal contamination contributed by individuals experiencing homelessness in the San Diego River Watershed. In collaboration with partners, contacts, and allied researchers, quantitative data will first be collected on the population of individuals residing in the riverbed/floodplain. To then understand their sanitation and defecation behaviors, a pilot survey will be developed and administered to these individuals. The survey data will be translated into a geospatial and data management platform for analysis, documentation, and reporting in coordination with SCCWRP.

San Diego River Watershed

Research and Analysis Framework

The Homelessness Hub team proposes a meta-analytic approach to this data, and will achieve it through the following:

  1. Literature Review regarding relevant international cases
  2. Collation of information gathered by affiliated researchers on riverbed encampments and surrounding public restrooms
  3. Information gathering to solicit observations and geospatial information on defecation habits near the San Diego watershed from Partners/Contacts.
  4. Develop a pilot survey tool to be distributed by PATH and SDRPF during winter season of 2021-2022
  5. The H-Hub team will perform quantitative analysis of all collected research tools/methods to form a baseline assessment of open defecation in the watershed.
  6. Publication of methodology and results as well as recommended modifications for future surveys and data collection methods

Project Timeline

Project Timeline
Year 2021 2022
Quarter Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Data Organization X X
Literature survey & quantitative methodology development X X
Focus groups & data gathering with Partner Agencies X X
Pilot survey question development & testing X
Pilot Field Survey X X X
Data Analysis of Census Results & Recommendations X X
Review & Presentation X X
Publication X

People participating in SCCWRP project

Project Deliverables

  1. Research Plan, including identification of Partner Agencies and desired information
  2. Quantitative analysis framework
  3. Pilot survey instrument, incorporating the literature review and consultation with Partner Agencies
  4. Quantitative analysis of census results and data from the meta-analysis with Partner Agencies
  5. Presentation and engagement with SCCWRP Steering Committee and Technical Review Team
  6. Recommended survey refinement for the 2022-2023 winter season census
  7. Project documentation and reporting


  • People Assisting the Homeless (PATH)
  • San Diego River Park Foundation (SDRPF)
  • San Diego State University
  • Loma Linda University
  • Sacramento State University

Project Team

  • Homelessness Hub Research Team
  • Dr. Mirle Rabinowitz-Bussell, Principal Investigator
  • Dr. Teevrat Garg, Assistant Professor of Economics
  • Juli Beth Hinds, AICP, MCRP, Staff Research Associate