San Francisco is nationally known for its homelessness problem. I was there last year and must say I didn’t observe it being any worse than New York (which isn’t great either). But this report by the local NBC affiliate in San Francisco is eye-popping.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit surveyed 153 blocks of downtown San Francisco in search of trash, needles, and feces. The investigation revealed trash littered across every block. The survey also found 41 blocks dotted with needles and 96 blocks sullied with piles of feces.
As the Investigative Unit photographed nearly a dozen hypodermic needles scattered across one block, a group of preschool students happened to walk by on their way to an afternoon field trip to city hall.
“We see poop, we see pee, we see needles, and we see trash,” said teacher Adelita Orellana. “Sometimes they ask what is it, and that’s a conversation that’s a little difficult to have with a 2-year old, but we just let them know that those things are full of germs, that they are dangerous, and they should never be touched.”
In light of the dangerous conditions, part of Orellana’s responsibilities now include teaching young children how to avoid the contamination.
It’s pretty stunning that one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world can’t even keep its streets clear of human waste. You don’t see anything like this in New York.
In a related story, last month the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about the struggle of the SF tourist industry to explain the state of the city’s streets to horrified tourists.
As president of the Handlery Union Square Hotel, part of Jon Handlery’s job is to scour travel websites to find out what tourists are telling one another about his hotel and San Francisco.
He tries to respond, thanking his customers for their patronage and acknowledging their gripes. But he’s stopped even trying to explain the No. 1 complaint: the city’s miserable street scene that’s made all the more stark against the backdrop of so much wealth and luxury.
Tiffany’s and tents. Neiman Marcus and needles. Macy’s and mental illness.
This month, for example, Handlery noticed a review on TripAdvisor that praised the hotel’s location, its pool, its proximity to the cable cars and the easy walk to the Ferry Building. But it ended with a jolt.
“Seeing homeless men in wheelchairs without shoes in the winter, women with infants on the streets, young men and women on the streets doing drugs, it was painful,” wrote the commenter.
Handlery used to assure his visitors the city was doing all it could to combat rampant homelessness, but he no longer makes those claims.
I’m not going to suggest there are easy answers for SF’s problems. But at a minimum this should prompt some more humility when it comes to how area residents view people in the rest of the country.