- San Francisco has launched what has been dubbed the "Poop Patrol" to address the city's growing trouble with human feces littering sidewalks, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Department of Public Works employees will patrol streets and alleys with a steam cleaner in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood and nearby districts to clean up the feces. A large portion of the city's homeless congregate in or near the Tenderloin and are viewed as contributors to the sidewalk feces proliferation.
- From January through this week, the city received nearly 14,600 calls to 311 for complaints of feces on sidewalks — about 65 per day — which is about 2,400 more complaints than at the same time last year. Mayor London Breed has prioritized mitigating homelessness and cleaning up street filth since recently taking office. She signed the city's budget into law this week with an additional $13 million for "comprehensive street cleaning," a portion of which will go toward five new staffed public restrooms.
Breed has openly discussed the city's increasing problem with human poop on sidewalks and has even taken walking tours of the city to see firsthand what residents are complaining about. She campaigned on increasing affordable housing capacity, reducing homelessness and cleaning up filthy streets. Breed got to work on fulfilling those promises by signing the budget within days of taking office; in addition to the street cleaning and public restroom funds, the budget contains a one-time pledge of $1 million over the next two fiscal years to help fund the 37 city-supported homeless shelters.
While some say the best sidewalk feces solution is to install more public restrooms, others point to cutting down the homeless problem in the first place because that is the root of the issue. While some instances of feces on sidewalks are due to animal owners not cleaning up after their pets as mandated by city law, the vast majority of the problem is human feces.
San Francisco is being called one of the epicenters for the growing housing crisis, in part brought on by cost of living spikes from the tech boom. As affordable housing supply shrinks rapidly, more people end up without a home.
The city conducts its homeless point-in-time count one night every other January. Last year's results showed nearly 7,500 people were homeless, which is nearly 1% of San Francisco's population. That's far higher than cities of comparable size and even eclipses much larger cities.
The "Poop Patrol" will focus its efforts in the Tenderloin, which abuts the tourist-heavy Union Square and the Civic Center, and it is also steps from the financial district. The street conditions and homeless population there are taking blame for lost tourist revenue in San Francisco, which is a big issue considering tourism is the city's largest industry. Perusing hotel booking and customer feedback websites regularly produces tourist and business traveler comments about filth and not feeling safe in these areas because of crime, drug activity and homelessness.
A notable portion of the homeless people in that part of town abuse drugs — sometimes publicly — and needles frequently litter the street. Those individuals have a reputation for becoming verbally and sometimes physically aggressive with passersby, leading to the traveler fears. Many of those same individuals also are labeled as prime contributors to feces-filled sidewalks. In addition to regular tourist concerns, a major medical association confirmed this summer that it was pulling its 15,000-person convention from the city because of member concerns about safety — namely open drug use and threatening behavior.
The feces situation isn't simply a problem of aesthetics or even homelessness, it's a health issue. Citizens stepping in human feces could transfer parasites, bacteria or viruses and spread illness, such as salmonella or norovirus. There is also a small risk of infectious fecal microbes becoming airborne. Although the likelihood of catching an infectious illness from feces in these ways is rare, the odds increase with more publicly exposed feces.
San Francisco's efforts to spend millions on street clean-up is an example of the ripple effect from the city's housing crisis. City employees also have spent significant time and money taking down homeless tent encampments over the past several years. Other cities might be able to stave off similar expensive, tough-to-solve problems before they reach this level by being proactive about addressing their cost of living and affordable housing inventory.