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A combination of discarded needles and piles of feces on the streets of San Francisco has caused least one expert to say that the city’s slums are comparable to those in developing countries.
Reporters with KNTV investigated what they referred to as the “diseased streets” of the city, and found that each of the 153 downtown blocks they surveyed — an area that encompasses playgrounds, hotels and government buildings — is littered with garbage. Included in this trash were at least 100 drug needles and 300 piles of feces.
Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Berkeley, warned that not only do the needles cause viral diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis, but dried fecal matter can release airborne viruses like the rotavirus.
“If you happen to inhale that, it can also go into your intestine,” he said, leading to potentially fatal results.
Riley, who has researched and written about conditions in slums across the world, believes that some parts of San Francisco may be worse than the world’s dirtiest slums.
“The contamination is … much greater than communities in Brazil or Kenya or India,” he said, while pointing out that in those countries, slums often serve as long-term housing, and thus, their residents work to maintain them.
But in San Francisco, he suggested that the homeless do not make an effort to keep the streets clean because they are forced to move around frequently.
The situation on the streets of San Francisco is particularly dangerous for children.
“We see poop, we see pee, we see needles, and we see trash,” said Adelita Orellana, a preschool teacher. “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.”
A’Nylah Reed, a 3-year-old preschooler, explained that “the floor is dirty,” making her walk to school difficult.
“There is poop in there,” she said. “That makes me angry.” Reed’s mother, meanwhile, noted that she often has to physically intervene to ensure that her daughter doesn’t step on needles or human feces.
Some city officials are convinced that the solution is to provide short-term housing for the city’s homeless population.
“Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable,” said city Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “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.”
The city currently has about 2,000 temporary beds, but Rosen believes about 1,000 more are needed, KNTV reported. This would likely cost roughly $25 million.
“We need to find a source of revenue,” she 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 towards that purpose and taking it away from something else in the city.”
Regardless, Ronen said the situation in San Francisco is a human “tragedy.”
“We’re not going to make a huge dent in this problem unless we deal with some underlying major social problems and issues,” she stated. “There’s a human tragedy happening in San Francisco.”
Until a permanent solution is decided upon, all the city can do is remove feces and needles from the streets, an effort that cost about $30 million in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, according to Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru.
Removing just one pile of human waste takes a half an hour, Nuru said.
“The steamer has to come. He has to park the steamer. He’s got to come out with his steamer, disinfect, steam clean, roll up and go,” he explained.
The dirty streets in San Francisco haven’t stopped it from being ranked among the most beautiful in the world. But the city is also one of the most expensive in the U.S., with Fox News noting that this accentuates a large “gap between the haves and have-nots.”
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