Over the past few years, Seattle has become a dumping ground for millions of pounds of garbage, needles, feces, and biohazardous waste, largely emanating from the hundreds of homeless encampments that have sprouted across the city. Now, the Emerald City is on the verge of a full-blown public-health crisis. Last year saw a 400 percent increase in HIV infections among mostly homeless addicts and prostitutes in the city’s northern corridor. Public-health officials are sounding the alarms about the return of diseases like typhus, tuberculosis, and trench fever. Even the region’s famed mussels and clams have tested positive for opioids.
While anyone who travels through Seattle can see the trash and litter along the roadside and green spaces, I wanted to understand the scale of the problem with more quantitative precision. Last month, I requested from the city all public complaints about trash, needles, tents, feces, and biohazardous waste from 2018. I then geocoded each complaint to create a data visualization that I call the Great Seattle Trash Map. The map documents more than 19,000 citizen complaints, from mundane reports of abandoned appliances to more serious pleas to clean up dangerous waste. Each data point on the map demonstrates that homeless encampments, opioid addiction, and mental illness have created significant disorder in almost every corner of Seattle.