In San Francisco, people call the city’s telephone hotline about 65 times a day to report piles of human feces on streets and sidewalks.
That adds up to 14,597 calls placed to 311 between January 1 and August 13, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Now, city officials are ramping up their response to San Francisco’s “poop problem.”
Starting next month, a team of five Public Works employees will take to the streets of San Francisco’s grittiest neighborhood, the Tenderloin, in a vehicle equipped with a steam cleaner. They will ride around the alleys to clean piles of poop before city denizens have a chance to complain about them, the Chronicle reports.
The poop problem has become a key issue for new Mayor London Breed, who grew up in public housing in San Francisco.
“I will say there are more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen growing up here,” Breed told NBC in a recent interview. “That is a huge problem and we are not just talking about from dogs — we’re talking about from humans.”
The feces piling up on sidewalks are a symptom of a much broader issue. San Francisco is in the thralls of a housing emergency.
The median two-bedroom rent of $3,090 is more than double the national average of $1,180, and only 12% of families can afford to buy a home in the city. Due to a variety of factors, including a shortage of affordable housing and shortcomings in the mental healthcare system, more than 7,400 homeless individuals live on the city’s streets without access to public restrooms and other necessities.
Is the poop problem dangerous?
In February, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit spent three days surveying 153 blocks of downtown San Francisco to see what they would find. Their search turned up drug needles, garbage, and feces in concentrations comparable to some of the world’s poorest slums.
When fecal matter dries, some particles become airborne and can spread potentially dangerous viruses, such as rotavirus. In Los Angeles, an outbreak of hepatitis A was linked to the city’s 50,000 homeless people, who often defecate in the streets and spread disease.
In San Francisco, Mayor Breed and the director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, hatched the idea for a Poop Patrol over conversations about the city’s filth.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” Nuru told the Chronicle. “We’re actually out there looking for it.”