San Francisco's "poop problem" has become the conversation topic we can't stop stepping in. Yes, it's real, both anecdotally and by the numbers. Everyone has covered it, and now it's become the social-media-clickbaitiest topic of every month, somehow.
It's in our feeds today with an article in FastCompany dutifully reblogged by the Bold Italic about the Tenderloin Pit Stop, a pilot project we first reported on last July that's coming to a close tomorrow. It cost about $150,000 to install three public restrooms. That's it. Three.
San Francisco has allocated $165 million to homeless services, and estimates that 7,350 homeless people now living on San Francisco's streets. Public toilet options have been floated since at least 2011, when "pooplets" were being mulled. This most recent program for mobile bathrooms equipped with sinks, toilets, dog waste stations, and needle receptacles was first covered in the Chronicle last summer, who wrote as background:
For decades, feces on streets and sidewalks has been one of the biggest quality-of-life issues for San Francisco residents and visitors, particularly in the hard-edged Tenderloin, home base for many of the city's homeless and the nonprofits that provide them clothes, addiction help and meals.
The Tenderloin Pit Stop toilets have attendants by day, with users getting a brief five minutes in the restrooms. Each evening, the Pit Stop toilets are taken away by the DPW for cleaning. It's drawn comparisons to Lava Mae, the bus-shower program also aimed at assisting the city's homeless population.
But somewhere along the way, and evinced by the coverage of this latest service, feces/poop became a category all to itself for San Francisco news outlets. Last year, after the Chronicle published its own poop map, The Bold Italic's guide to "SF's Shittiest Streets" was followed quickly by the widely reblogged (Human) Wasteland map of San Francisco. That hit graphic perfectly combined the two San Francisco hobbyhorses of maps and poop.
Hey, poop is fun to talk about! It's disgusting! And it's on the street! But, of course, San Francisco's "poop problem" is completely symptomatic of the very serious homelessness problem, which is too often obscured by such articles which try to make it all an obscene farce about dodging piles of poop. Meanwhile issues of housing and services for the homeless go under-addressed and most of SF sits back chuckling about poop maps. At worst, mocking poop could be seen as a dog-whistle for mocking homelessness itself, but I'll stop there.
Seriously, if we spent as much time sharing articles and maps of homeless people instead of their poop, maybe some more productive conversations about the issue could be taking place. But no. It's all, "Haha, let's make another info-graphic about poop and Facebook it!" Oh well.