San Francisco's housing crisis is also (of course) a homelessness crisis, and homelessness crises beget public defecation crises — and San Francisco has a serious public defecation crisis.
The city spends $65 million/year cleaning up the streets, a figure that is so high because of the quantities of feces, urine, and dirty needles that find their way onto San Francisco's streets. And despite the $65 million, San Francisco's streets are very, very dirty.
People poop. Even if there isn't a toilet for them to poop in, they still poop. Where there are no toilets, there is still poop.
Pit Stops are toilets provided for homeless people to use, complete with secure needle disposal boxes. They get used a lot: 50,000 flushes in August across 24 toilets, which cost the city $3.1 million/year (mostly labor — the toilets are kept clean and sanitary). The $3.1 million seems like a lot, until you realize it's less than 5 percent of what the city is (under)spending to clean up the poop that doesn't get into the toilets. And neighborhoods with Pit Stops have a lot less public poop. People poop, and they prefer to poop in toilets.
Writing in Mission Local, Joe Eskenazi calls for a "Marshall plan for toilets": " Rather than solely heed the reductive call for more power-washers and more money literally going down the drain, this city should take the intuitive step: To prevent filth on the streets, provide toilets. To prevent needles underfoot, provide deposit boxes."
Whenever the problems of homelessness come up, someone is always there to say, "You can't solve this problem by throwing money at it." It's true! You can spend an infinite amount of money on shelter beds and social workers without making a dent in homelessness. On the other hand, if you just build housing and let homeless people live in it, you can virtually end homelessness for pennies of what these fancier programs cost.
Likewise public poop: you can spend as much money as you want on power-washing, steam-cleaning and cops to chase away defecating homeless people and there will still be poop everywhere. But if you give people toilets, they will poop in them. People poop, and they prefer to poop in toilets.
San Francisco, meanwhile, puts a jaw-dropping $65 million toward cleaning its streets; Mayor Mark Farrell dolloped an additional $12.8 million into street-cleaning in the latest budget cycle alone.
It is, frankly, difficult to say this glut of street-cleaning funds is money well-spent. Without providing people with a place to relieve themselves, putting ever more money into street-cleaning is a bit like buying a bigger bucket instead of patching the hole in the boat.
As we noted last week, cleaning the streets is reactive. Even Mayor London Breed's headline-grabbing "poop patrols" are merely proactively reactive. Power-washing filth off the streets will always be a necessity in this and every city. But, even viewed merely as a spreadsheet item and giving no consideration to human dignity, Pit Stops aren't just an expense — they're an investment. In June of 2014, there were 742 requests for steam-cleaning in the Tenderloin. Three years and multiple Pit Stops later, in June of last year, there were 298.
San Francisco needs a Marshall Plan — for toilets [Joe Eskenazi/Mission Local]