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San Francisco launching 'Poop Patrol' to take on problem of human waste in the streets

The city of San Francisco is launching a "Poop Patrol" that is dedicated to cleaning up the city's streets. The city also plans to open five more "Pit Stop" public restrooms. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The citizens of San Francisco are tired of having to watch where they step, and City Hall is listening.

Concerned with the volume of complaint calls from residents about human waste on the city's sidewalks, Mayor London Breed announced that the city would be launching a dedicated "Poop Patrol" in an effort to clean up the streets.

Say what?

When Breed took office last month, she vowed to be aggressive in battling the city's sanitation problems. Since then, she told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I've been talking to the Department of Public Works Director [Mohammed Nuru] on a regular basis, and I'm like, 'What are we going to do about the poop?'"

Together, they came up with the Poop Patrol brainchild: a team of six Public Works employees patrolling the city's hot spots, searching for piles of doo-doo.

"We're trying to be proactive," Nuru told the Chronicle. "We're actually out there looking for it."

San Francisco's Poop Patrol will consist of two trucks equipped with steam cleaners, at the cost of about $750,000. The teams begin their mission this week in what WSL-TV referred to as a "soft launch," but their official start will be in September.

The city also plans to open five more "Pit Stop" public restrooms, bringing the total to 27.

Is it really that bad?

San Francisco has had a homelessness epidemic for decades, fueled by high rent prices and high drug usage. As of last year, the city's homeless population was around 7,500 people, with more than 4,300 recorded as "unsheltered." Many of the indigent live in tents on the city's sidewalks, scattering debris of all sorts.

In February, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit surveyed 153 blocks of the city to determine just how filthy it is. When the team presented its findings to Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Berkley, she told them she believes parts of San Francisco are dirtier than some of the world's poorest slums.

"The contamination is...much greater than communities in Brazil or Kenya or India," Riley said.

Human waste in the streets is more than just unsightly, it's a matter of public health. Riley explained that when fecal matter dries, it can become airborne and spread potentially lethal viruses.

"If you happen to inhale it," she said, "it can also go into your intestine."

Mayor Breed makes unannounced tours of the city's streets to assess conditions herself. But she told WSL she doesn't have to walk far to see that something needs to be done about poop on the sidewalks.

"I've had to deal with it myself in front of my home and it's not a pleasant feeling," she said.

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