San Francisco

NBC Bay Area Investigation Into San Francisco's ‘Diseased Streets' Goes Viral

The story has attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers online and a wave of comments from those across the Bay Area and around the world

A recent NBC Bay Area investigation, which revealed an alarming amount of trash, drug needles and feces scattered across San Francisco, has gone viral.

The findings, which center around a 153-block survey of downtown San Francisco, gained major traction on social media with thousands of posts from Bay Area residents, tourists, and prominent news outlets.

Online, many shared their own horror stories concerning trash, needles, and human waste found on the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco.

The Investigative Unit discovered 100 needles, more than 300 piles of feces, and trash on every street of the 20 miles of streets and sidewalks surveyed in downtown San Francisco.  

Viewer Comments

Dirty streets and overly agressive panhandlers are among the top complaints from San Francisco hotel guests, according to Kevin Carroll, executive director of the Hotel Council of San Francisco, which represents more than half of the city’s hotels.

“This needs to change,” he said.  "It's not humane ... this is hurting business." 

The Investigative Unit contacted each member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for comment on the story.  Supervisors London Breed and Jane Kim, both mayoral candidates for the upcoming special election in June, expressed frustration and dissapointment over the city's lack of cleanliness.

Breed believes one potential solution is opening up “safe injection sites," which would provide individuals a space to inject drugs under medical supervision.  The facility would offer drug users sterile needles and a place to safely dispose of the needles after they are used.  Breed says opening such a facility would not only help get drug users off the streets, it would also offer treatment options for addicts. 

The concept of creating a "legal place to do illegal drugs" certainly has opponents, particularly in the law enforcement community, who worry such sites could attract drug dealers. Breed says San Francisco is currently in the process of scouting potential locations for the center. 

Breed, who believes the city could open such a facility in a matter of months, says San Francisco’s City Attorney is currently working on clearing any legal hurdles in order to ensure employees at the center do not face any type of criminal prosecution for assisting drug users.

In the battle to clean up San Francisco, Breed also believes the city needs to increase its amount of public restrooms. Breed says the city would need to conduct analyses to determine the extent of the need.

Kim believes the demand is high enough to double the number of public restrooms, specifically those staffed by city employees, which would bring the current count of 17 to 34. 

Additionally, Kim believes San Francisco's Public Works department isn't employing a big enough team to adequately clean and maintain the city's streets and sidewalks.

"Hong Kong has 6,000 street cleaners," said Kim. "San Francisco only has 285."  While San Francisco's population of 870,000 pales in comparison to Hong Kong's 7 million, Hong Kong still has three times as many street cleaners, per resident, as San Francisco.  

Kim says the money needed to make both of these changes is available now. "We have the resources today," Kim said.  "We just need leadership."

Despite a wide range of critiques and recommendations from lawmakers, residents, tourists, business owners, and the homeless, there is one point of agreement: The current approach isn't working.


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