Watch where you step in San Francisco. An investigation finds that city streets are riddled with human feces and drug needles, but city officials are avoiding holding accountable those responsible for this pile-up.
If lawmakers don’t take waste and misbehavior among its homeless population more seriously, public safety and tourism–the city’s biggest industry– will suffer.
A news investigation found an alarming amount of trash, used drug needles and feces clogging San Francisco’s streets. A 153-block survey of downtown, “revealed trash on every block, 100 needles and more than 300 piles of feces along the 20-mile stretch of streets and sidewalks.”
Homeless are reportedly defecating and doing drugs openly along with others behaviors that residents and tourists find unacceptable and threatening.
The newly-elected mayor, London Breed, sees the problem firsthand, but so far is refusing to take a stronger approach to deal with these behaviors. Her approach: remind homeless agencies to tell their clients to clean up after themselves. She said in an interview:
I work hard to make sure your programs are funded for the purposes of trying to get these individuals help, and what I am asking you to do is work with your clients and ask them to at least have respect for the community — at least, clean up after themselves and show respect to one another and people in the neighborhood.
A gentle reminder may not be enough for this population. When pressed about harsher penalties for defecators Breed demurred:
"I didn’t express anything about a penalty." Instead, the mayor said she has encouraged nonprofits "to talk to their clients, who, unfortunately, were mostly responsible for the conditions of our streets."
This isn’t even a slap on the wrists. The city is passing off responsibility to homeless organizations, which really don’t have any motivation to make this issue a priority.
The city has every right to crack down on the defecating in public and open drug use. Even if they want to work with homeless organizations, which will receive most of this year’s $280 million funding to fight homelessness, the city could condition funding to depend on outcomes in this area. Holding the organizations accountable puts some fire under them to take the problem seriously too. (City residents will vote this fall to increase taxes on companies’ revenue above $50 million to help fight homelessness.)
Poop doesn’t just stay where it’s laid; it poses health hazards. Used needles are also a danger to pedestrians.
A trauma and emergency medicine specialist and public health policy expert explained the health and environmental risks of human waste to the Daily News:
“feces can transmit numerous bacterial infections, including cholera, a multitude of viral infections (including norovirus, which people associate with food poisoning outbreaks on cruise ships), hepatitis A, various parasitic diseases and worms.”
…“people unknowingly pick up fecal remnants on their shoes and then transfer it to their businesses, cars, public transportation and homes. To complicate matters further, when the rain comes, it washes all of that material into the city’s drainage system.”
In addition, there is a big risk to the tourism industry if visitors don't feel safe.
The city welcomed 25.5 million visitors in 2017. Tourism generates a reported $9 billion each year and employs 80,000 people. Conventions are responsible for about $1.7 billion of that business. From hotels and transportation to dining and shopping, tourism supports countless businesses and fills the city’s public coffers with $725 million in local taxes.
If other conferences follow and visitors start to go elsewhere, the city will lose needed revenue that keeps their homeless services going.
City officials should take this problem seriously or they won’t just have poop on their hands.