Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Public Affairs Students Take on Riverbed Research

Public Affairs students team up with environmental engineers to improve San Diego River water quality and assist local homeless

Public Affairs Students Take on Riverbed Research

By Amanda Osborn

School of Public Affairs professors Shawn Flanigan and Megan Welsh had been working on issues of housing insecurity for a few years when there were approached by colleagues from the College of Engineering with an interesting research opportunity: help improve the water quality of the San Diego River, while also helping the homeless community who find shelter in the riverbeds.

Environmental engineering faculty who were studying the water quality of the San Diego River realized that some of the river’s contamination may come from the homeless community that lives near and in the riverbed, who do not have easy access to sanitation and hygiene facilities. In Fall 2018, Dr. Flanigan and Dr. Welsh worked with SDSU public affairs students in their classes to interview individuals experiencing homelessness near the San Diego River, to better understand access to clean water, restrooms, handwashing and shower facilities by the community that lives in the area, and the possible impact on the quality of the river water.

“This was so fascinating to me because I have had a long interest in the connection between homelessness and water quality, because I’ve heard similar concerns when I’ve met with local public officials” says Flanigan.

The Public Affairs courses started their research with their first set of interview data collected in November 2018. Interviews are centered on sanitation and hygiene, including what resources the homeless community is presently using, and what other resources they need. As more research is conducted, more questions may come up, such as how the unsheltered residents around the river feel about these facilities and what interventions would be the most helpful.

“This is a very exciting project for me because it is so multifaceted,” says Flanigan. “I don’t get to work with environmental engineers every day and that’s a great opportunity to have.”

In Spring 2019, additional interviews and crowdmapping data of accessible sanitation facilities will continue to be collected by Public Affairs students. Drs. Flanigan and Welsh hope this data can help local decision makers provide better sanitation and hygiene solutions for unsheltered individuals.

For more about the SDSU School of Public Affairs visit:

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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