$30 Million to Clean Human Waste

San Francisco Sidewalks Littered With Needles and Feces, Despite Millions Spent on Cleaning

With former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom emerging as the leading candidate for California governor, San Francisco has come under increasing scrutiny, and is not getting good reviews. Recent reports have detailed crime sprees, streets that a health expert said are worse than in some Third World countries, and an exodus of residents.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced a new plan to combat a rash of vehicle break-ins, and has asked for $1 million to establish a task force. In 2017, San Francisco had approximately 30,000 reported auto break-ins, a 25 percent increase from 2016, and the worst year on record. Many residents said they have stopped reporting break-ins, since the likelihood of anything being done is minimal.

Residents also have an increased risk simply from walking the city’s sidewalks. A recent investigative report by NBC Bay Area found that despite spending millions of dollars a year cleaning used syringe needles and feces off city sidewalks, the city still has filthy sidewalks that pose a health hazard.

The NBC investigative crew walked 153 downtown blocks and discovered trash on each one, 100 disposed hypodermic needles and more than 300 piles of human feces.

Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert at the University of California at Berkeley, said: “If you do get stuck with these disposed needles you can get HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and a variety of other diseases. … If you happen to inhale (dried fecal matter), it can also go into your intestine.” The results can be fatal, especially to children, the doctor said.

Dr. Riley has researched some of the poorest slums in the world to examine health problems created by extreme poverty. Reacting to the findings by NBC, Dr. Riley said, “The contamination is … much greater than communities in Brazil or Kenya or India.”

A preschool teacher told NBC that her responsibilities now include teaching young children how to avoid the contamination.

“We’re losing tourists. We’re losing conventions in San Francisco. All of this is happening because we aren’t addressing the root cause, which is we need more temporary beds for street homelessness,” San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen said.

Ronen contends the city is too focused on permanent housing for the homeless and needs approximately 1,000 more beds in temporary shelters that would cost approximately $25 million and would require higher taxes.

“We need to find a source of revenue,” Ronen said. “Whether that’s putting something on the ballot to raise business taxes or taking a look at our general fund and reallocating money towards that purpose.”

Mohammed Nuru, director of the Public Works Department, said approximately half of his department’s budget is spent on cleaning sidewalks, a jurisdiction not normally a part of his department’s authority.

The city’s 2016-17 budget allocated $60.1 million for street cleaning services, nearly double that of 5 years ago. Originally, the money – the equivalent of $1.2 million per square mile of the city – was intended to clean the streets only, with sidewalks the responsibility of individual property owners. However, due to the severe contamination on the sidewalks, the city inherited the problem and currently spends half of its street-cleaning budget on cleaning up feces and needles from homeless encampments and sidewalks.

“Yes, we can clean,” Nuru said, “and then go back a few hours later, and it looks as if it was never cleaned. So is that how you want to spend your money?”

Nuru said a single pile of human waste takes one of his workers at least 30 minutes to clean: “The steamer has to come. He has to park the steamer. He’s got to come out with his steamer, disinfect, steam clean, roll up and go.”

The decay of the city’s streets, the high cost of living and astronomical housing prices have begun to push out many of the Bay Area’s residents, even those on the upper end of the economic spectrum. A study on the outward migration from the Bay Area found the number of people moving out is at its highest level in more than a decade, marking the time in many years that the number of people leaving exceeded those coming. Local operators of U-Haul locations said their biggest problem is getting rental vehicles back, since most are on a one-way trip out of town.

To test the theory of outward migration, the American Enterprise Institute examined the cost of renting a one-way U-Haul truck between San Jose and six likely destination cities. The idea was if the supply of U-Haul trucks is balanced at locations, prices would be similar, but if one location has a scarce supply of trucks available, the cost of renting that vehicle should be higher. In every instance, the cost of renting a vehicle leaving San Jose was significantly more expensive than renting a truck to San Jose. Some charges were 16 times more expensive, demonstrating the lack of vehicle availability at San Jose locations in comparison to the other cities.

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