In a city where filthy sidewalks are many residents’ No. 1 complaint, City Hall has come up with a new way to deal with No. 2.
It sounds like silly elementary school banter, but it’s real. San Francisco is about to launch the Poop Patrol.
In about a month, a team of five Public Works staffers will begin patrolling the alleys around Polk Street and other hot spots in a vehicle equipped with a steam cleaner
They’ll begin their shifts in the afternoon, as the city starts losing its sheen from overnight cleaning. The Poop Patrol’s mission? To spot and clean piles of feces before anybody complains about them.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” explained Public Works director Mohammed Nuru. “We’re actually out there looking for it.”
We’re all out there looking for it, our eyes trained on the sidewalks as we walk so as to avoid that awful squishy feeling.
I admit to giggling when Nuru told me about plans for the Poop Patrol the other day. But in a city where people called 311 to report feces a whopping 14,597 times between Jan. 1 and Monday morning, public piles of poop are serious business.
For the record, that’s about 65 calls regarding sidewalk poop every day. And it’s 2,427 more calls on the stinky subject than were made in the same time period last year.
The Poop Patrol idea sprung from conversations between Nuru and Mayor London Breed, both of whom have expressed disgust with the filthy conditions of our sidewalks.
Breed took one of her unannounced walks Monday morning to see sidewalk conditions up close, this time going from 18th and Castro streets to Market Street and then east for about a block. We didn’t see any feces, which tends to be more prevalent in the Civic Center, Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, but the mayor said it’s a major concern.
“I’ve been talking to the Department of Public Works director on a regular basis, and I’m like, ‘What are we going to do about the poop?’” she told me in what may be the first conversation I’ve ever had with a mayor that included the word “poop.”
“He and I talked about coming up with some different solutions,” she continued. “I just want the city to be clean, and I want to make sure we’re providing the resources so that it can be.”
She and Nuru said a lot of the waste on the sidewalks comes from dogs, and dog owners need to do a far better job picking up after their pets.
(Seriously, dog owners? Why is this still an issue 40 years after the Board of Supervisors passed Supervisor Harvey Milk’s “pooper scooper” ordinance to make it illegal for pet owners to not pick up their animal’s droppings? Have some decency.)
Of course, an obvious solution to all the human waste on the sidewalks would be to install more public bathrooms so homeless people don’t have to use the sidewalks as toilets.
Breed did commit a sliver of the city’s new $11.1 billion budget to that goal, allotting $1.05 million to construct five Pit Stop public toilets and expand operating hours at five existing locations.
There are 22 Pit Stop toilets around the city, but many of them are open only until the late afternoon or evening. There are few options for homeless people to relieve themselves overnight.
Mel Llamas, a 52-year-old resident of Treasure Island, thinks there should be twice as many Pit Stop toilets as there are now. And he should know. He monitors the one at Castro and Market streets. He’s there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and another monitor overlaps with him from noon to 8 p.m.
Llamas said about 75 people use the toilet every day, and 90 percent of them use it as intended. Among that other 10 percent? A couple using the toilet as, Llamas politely put it, “a motel.” The man who entered the toilet fully clothed and emerged wearing only socks. People who try to shelter inside overnight or use it as a shooting gallery.
But Llamas said the vast majority treat the bathroom with respect, as long as he treats them with respect before they go inside.
Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, which provides mobile shower stalls and toilets to homeless people around San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. She got the idea after learning San Francisco had a measly 16 shower stalls for homeless people.
“We need our streets cleaned up, so I love that they’re doing the Poop Patrol,” she said, giggling at the name like I did. “But there’s no doubt about the fact that we need more public bathrooms. Everywhere we can, we need to make them available. For our unhoused neighbors and everyone in the city, when you need to be able to find a facility, it shouldn’t be this massive challenge.”
In an ironic twist, a co-worker of mine stepped in a pile of poop in front of the Department of Public Health at Polk and Grove streets on Monday morning, experiencing that stomach-churning feeling so common to frustrated San Franciscans.
If only it had been prevented by the Poop Patrol.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle