Local media, along with the general public, have made a fair amount of repeated fuss in recent years over the presence of human waste on our city's streets, which despite some not insignificant cleanup efforts by the city continues to be a mess not easily wiped away.
Today — as we learn that a city Supervisor, the Mayor, and the Department of Public Works are debating whether to throw more money at the problem or to make different efforts to curb the behavior of those on the street who openly shit there on the regular — SFist takes a look back at scourge of feces that has plagued the city longer than we care to remember, and the ways in which "poop in San Francisco" has become a sort of stand-in example for all that is wrong with liberal America. (If you want to do your own search, just take a look at the "poop" tag on SFist over the years. This is not a new story, people. Outlets just like to pretend it's new every 18 months or so, and there is some evidence to suggest it's worse than it was a decade ago.)
2008 - The Department of Public Works (DPW) begins specifically recording calls to cleanup feces.
March 2008 - Right around the height of the financial crisis and nearing the end of President George W. Bush's term, a "commission" was formed to rename San Francisco's Oceanside wastewater treatment facility after Bush. A measure to do so failed at the ballot box.
July 2009 - Then-mayor Gavin Newsom and wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom had only just moved into a new home in the Upper Haight when their front stoop was promptly defecated upon.
2010 - The percent of weekly "human waste" calls to SF's 311 hotline ticks up from 2.5% to 3.5%.
2011 - DPW reports 5,547 incidents of human waste cleanup for the year.
September 2011 - The city begins talking about creating "pooplets" in street parking spaces in the Tenderloin and in SoMa alleys — a playful take on the parklet trend then sweeping the city.
March 2012 - A story about a mentally ill homeless woman who regularly used one particular Nob Hill bus shelter as her personal toilet prompts a local news story after residents complain.
July 2012 - A story goes viral about how the sheer volume of human excrement in BART escalators is causing widespread machinery breakdowns. This story is later revised to add in the context that, systemwide, BART's escalators were all reaching the end of their 40-year lifespans and all will require replacement.
December 2013 - Public Works reports a total of 8,793 human waste cleanups, a 59% increase over two years earlier.
May 2014 - The Chronicle's C.W. Nevius publishes a piece about the city's most-poop-filled street, St. George Alley in the Tenderloin. SFist breaks it down by the numbers, and notes that in the first four months of the year, DPW had already received 5,585 steam cleaning requests, mostly for poop and pee.
July 2014 - The city begins mapping human excrement reports by street, in order to determine priority locations for new mobile toilets. Tenderloin Pit Stop launches to provide extra toilet capacity for mid-city streets. The Chronicle notes that "For decades, feces on streets and sidewalks has been one of the biggest quality-of-life issues for San Francisco residents and visitors," this despite every media outlet treating the problem as brand new.
November 2014 - Web developer Jennifer Wong wins a hack week contest with Human Wasteland, an interactive map about feces cleanup efforts in San Francisco that Wong says was meant to be a way to educate people about homelessness. The map would later be co-opted by the conservative media to excoriate San Francisco's liberal policies toward the homeless. (She has since shut the map off and posted a marquee saying, "[This map was made] not to insult people or places. Not to further political agendas not related to homelessness.")
January 2015 - Fast Company picks up on the story of the Tenderloin Pit Stop, and a barrage of national stories begin flowing about how wealthy San Francisco is drowning in human shit. Many of these come from conservative publications.
July 2015 - Cranky conservative Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders chats up DPW about why the streets around the Chronicle building seem so suddenly poop-laden, to her. She writes, "Downtown San Francisco feels like a large public toilet without enough janitors."
August 2015 - SF Travel head Joe D’Alessandro tells the Chron's Matier & Ross, of the poop problem, "People come here thinking of this as the center of innovation and entrepreneurship, and they see a street scene that looks like something out of a Third World country."
January 2017 - The point-in-time homeless census finds that there are around 7,500 unhoused individuals on the streets, virtually unchanged in number from two years before.
July 2017 - The poop-ocalypse goes dormant for a bit after the city sees a little more rain. Then comes word from Rec & Parks that they are moving to ban all sandboxes from the city's playgrounds because all too often they are receptacles for feces, both human and animal.
February 2018 - A year into the Trump administration and after Rush Limbaugh has falsely stated that Wong's poop map was a city project (even though the city was doing some tracking of its own), Wong turns the map off and posts her message.
July 2018 - Mayor London Breed clocks the word "feces" in her swearing-in speech.
August 2018 - The city establishes a special six-person "poop patrol" unit.
August 2018 - Citylab publishes a piece about the politicization of the poop problem, writing, "All of this extra scrutiny could provide the political pressure to finally find policies and programs that address one of the city's most intractable challenges. But homeless advocates also fear that poop hysteria could also end up pushing this historically compassionate and permissive city into a more punitive stance towards its most vulnerable residents."
October 2018 - The New York Times reports on the "dirtiest block in San Francisco," again playing up the rich v. poor angle, noting that the 300 block of Hyde Street had received 2,227 complaints about street and sidewalk cleanliness over the course of a decade.
October 2018 - A tech bro who, perhaps, isn't aware of any of the above recent history creates an app called Snapcrap, allowing users to quickly photograph and report feces to DPW. This gets media attention.
April 2019 - YET ANOTHER MAP crops up, published on Forbes, showing the 132,562 feces reports recorded by DPW in the 11 years since it began recording. Once again, this may serves no particular purpose other than to say SF has been cleaning up a lot of shit for a lot of years. Vice picks up the story, noting that the count of cleanups has risen exponentially, to over 28,000 in 2018, indicating that the problem has only gotten worse. Pundits also note that as more affluent people move into a neighborhood, demands for cleanliness tend to rise.
May 2019 - The Chronicle's Phil Matier takes up the poop torch anew, getting quotes from DPW director Mohammad Nuru ("It‘s not just about the money anymore, it’s about also needing to deal with the people who are creating the problems. Cleaning the same area three, four, five times a day is not the best use of our money, but it is necessary until the behavior changes.") and Supervisor Haney ("I’m for accountability, but I haven’t seen any plan for how to do it. The city should be accountable as well."), who is calling for 10 new Pit Stops, five of which are open 24 hours. Tenderloin Housing Clinic Executive Director Randy Shaw tells Matier that it's the drug dealers, not the residents, who defecate in the streets instead of in public toilets. Mayor Breed seems to be pushing for more "quality of life" citations, but of course homeless advocates say that's only criminalizing homelessness.
And the cycle continues! If you know anyone skilled in the cajoling of the mentally ill, drug addicted, and un-housed to use city-sanctioned public toilets instead of the nearest alley or bus stop to do their business, the city would I'm sure would love to talk to them.
Related: San Francisco's Feces-Covered Streets By The Numbers