A mix of used hypodermic needles, human feces, and other trash litters the streets and sidewalks in a large section of downtown San Francisco, a local news outlet reported Sunday night.
It's a problem that has grown by epic proportions in recent years and has many concerned for the health and safety of some the city's youngest residents, KNTV-TV revealed.
An investigative team from the local NBC station found filthy conditions that many experts believe may be worse than the slums in some developing countries.
Where was the survey done?
The investigation encompassed 153 blocks of the city, including popular tourist spots, major hotel chains, schools, city hall, playgrounds, and a police station.
Over the course of three days, they found 100 drug needles, more than 300 piles of feces throughout downtown, along with numerous piles of trash, food, and other junk.
During the survey, a group of preschoolers encountered dangerous contaminants while walking to city hall for a field trip.
“We see poop, we see pee, we see needles, and we see trash,” Adelita Orellana, the students' preschool teacher, said. “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.”
What are the health risks?
Used needles and feces are hosts for many serious diseases.
“If you do get stuck with these disposed needles you can get HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and a variety of other viral diseases,” Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert at University of California, Berkeley, told KNTV.
Dried fecal matter can pose additional risks for airborne diseases such as rotavirus, an intestinal infection that can be deadly for children.
“If you happen to inhale that, it can also go into your intestine,” Riley said.
What is the city doing about the problem?
“Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable," city supervisor Hillary Ronen said. “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.”
She believes there has been too much focus on permanent housing for the homeless and not enough is being done to address temporary housing for people currently on the streets.
San Francisco has about 2,000 temporary beds for the homeless population, but Ronen believes 1,000 more are needed.
She estimated it would cost about $25 million to add the needed beds.
“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 re-allocating money toward that purpose and taking it away from something else in the city.”
What is being done to keep the city clean?
Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said his crews are working seven days a week, around the clock, trying to keep the city clean.
The public works budget includes $60.1 million for "Street Environmental Services." The budget was originally designated to clean the streets, but it now includes washing the 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 told KNTV that he has estimated about half his budget is spent cleaning up human waste and needles from sidewalks and homeless encampments.