San Francisco’s sidewalks are covered with human feces, so the city is launching a ‘Poop Patrol’ to deal with its No. 2 problem

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

  • Some San Francisco streets are so covered in human feces that the city is launching a “Poop Patrol” to clean the mess.
  • The Poop Patrol will ride around the Tenderloin neighborhood in a vehicle equipped with a steam cleaner.
  • San Francisco’s poop problem is a symptom of the housing crisis that has forced thousands to live on the streets.

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 reported.

Now, city officials are ramping up their response to San Francisco’s poop problem.

Starting next month, a team of five employees from the Department of Public Works 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 citizens have a chance to complain about them, the Chronicle reported.

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 is 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 is a symptom of a much broader issue. San Francisco is in the throes of a housing emergency.

The median two-bedroom rent of $3,090 is more than double the national average of $1,180, and a report earlier this year found that only 12% of families in the city can afford to buy a home there. Because of a variety of factors, including a shortage of affordable housing and shortcomings in the mental-healthcare system, there are more than 7,400 people who are homeless in the city, many without access to 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 it would find. The search turned up drug needles, garbage, and feces in concentrations comparable to some of the world’s poorest slums.

The poop problem is unsightly, as well as potentially dangerous.

When fecal matter dries, some particles become airborne and can spread viruses such as rotavirus. Inhaling those germs can be fatal, according to Dr. Lee Riley, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of California, Berkeley. In Los Angeles last year, an outbreak of hepatitis A was linked to a lack of accessible toilets for the city’s 50,000 homeless people.

In San Francisco, 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.”