San Francisco's homelessness crisis is so bad, people appear to be using poop to graffiti the sidewalks

feces San FranciscoNBC Bay Area

  • An NBC Bay Area investigation found graffiti presumably written in feces in downtown San Francisco.
  • The discovery comes amid a rise in complaints about human feces to the city's non-emergency services line.
  • Before Mayor London Breed took office, she promised to clean up San Francisco's streets within three months of her inauguration.

It seemed that conditions in San Francisco couldn't get much worse than open-air drug markets, piles of poop on the sidewalks, and streets littered with heroin needles. Then an NBC Bay Area investigation found graffiti presumably written in feces on two separate blocks in the city's downtown.

One resident has since speculated that the graffiti could be written in foam sealant instead of poop, but the investigative unit also found piles of excrement nearby.

The discovery was made during a survey of San Francisco's dirtiest streets in early November. This was a follow-up to a previous investigation in January, before Mayor London Breed took office.

Breed recently told NBC that she has seen a "huge difference" in the cleanliness of certain parts of the city - a fulfillment of her campaign promise to clean up the streets within three months of her July inauguration.

Read more: San Francisco's homelessness crisis is a human rights violation and suggests 'a cruelty that is unsurpassed'

It's unclear whether this goal has actually been met. NBC's latest survey found 22 fewer needles on the street in November compared to January, but 64 more appearances of feces. Eighteen of these poop sightings took place on a single block near the federal courthouse, and all twenty of the surveyed streets had at least one appearance of trash or feces.

There was also a rise in complaints to 311, the city's non-emergency services line. When the NBC unit compared the three months before Breed took office to the three months after, they found an 8% increase in complaints about used needles, a 3% increase in complaints about trash, and a 30% increase in complaints about human feces.

poop San FranciscoNBC Bay Area

The abundance of feces is a product of the city's mounting homelessness crisis, which the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, has called a "human rights violation." Following her recent visit to San Francisco, Farha recalled seeing piles of trash and scattered poop on the ground.

"That was human sh-t," she said. "And why was it there? Because there's nowhere for people to go to the bathroom."

Mayor Breed told NBC the rise in 311 complaints was due to more people reporting the unsightly conditions, not necessarily dirtier streets. But the outcry surrounding San Francisco's filthy sidewalks hasn't died down since the mayor took office.

In October, locals told the New York Times they were still encountering discarded needles and human feces on their daily commutes to work.

"Take a walk through the residential streets in the morning and you will find people sleeping in doorways, behind bushes and hidden stairways, often leaving behind their refuse and scraps of clothing," one person wrote to the Times. "I don't know what the answer is, but what is currently being done is clearly not working."

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