Imagine strolling around the downtown area of one of the richest cities in the world and enjoying the clean sidewalks and aromas coming from artisanal bakeries. Holding hands with your little ones and considering places to stop for a snack.
Folks on the streets are smiling and waving at each other, passing the time of day and arranging meetups with friends. Suggesting going for a quick coffee catch up, or maybe they have time for brunch? I have to dash to meet the in-laws for a hike, but next weekend for sure.
Then go take a walk in the Tenderloin if you dare. Complaining about homeless people on the streets will get them moved on by the police now. But two years ago, with nobody to stop them, they came back.
Expert declares the city on a par with some of the world's worst slums
In 2019, Behind the Story: Walking San Francisco's Dirty Streets investigators wondered why technology couldn't solve the problem. They walked in a twenty-mile area. They carried clipboards and checklists. They took photographs of trash and poop and syringes. Three hundred and three piles of feces. One hundred used syringes. Trash on every street.
Hyde Street was the dirtiest Street in the city according to Snapcrap, the app folks used to send photographs to city public cleaning departments. This app is no longer in use as far as I can tell. I think it did an excellent job of highlighting the very real problems on the streets of San Francisco. Sorry, couldn't resist getting that reference in.
A young man, who moved to 6th and Market, couldn’t believe how dirty the streets in his area were. As a software developer with data skills, he took matters into his own hands and designed an app that residents, workers and tourists could use to snap photos of poop and used syringes. The app would then send a message to the City works department responsible for street cleaning.
A renowned slum expert compared SF to some of the worst slums in the world and said SF rivalled some of the dirtiest.
The investigative journalist in the video wonders how SF, which covers an area of seven miles by seven miles, picks up twenty times more trash and spent $20 million dollars more than Los Angeles did to do it. Most people in LA never see the homeless of Skid Row. Yet, SF locates homeless help services in the center, next to Downtown. Where do most tourists want to visit? Yep, Downtown.
Smart technology and media prompts action
The tech guy in the video placed sensors under the lids of 1,000 trash cans in areas most visited by tourists. Downtown, Chinatown and The Mission District.
Nordsense made the sensors with a cell phone, a battery, a camera and ultrasonic sensing. The battery will last years. When the can reaches 70% full it sends a message to 311 alerting the department to the situation. A great addition to the smart tech the city already employs for reducing energy consumption.
After NBC reported on their findings in San Francisco, media from all over the world chimed in on the subject. This prompted San Francisco to put together a team of people who go out onto the streets to pick up used syringes. Another team has the unsavoury task of clearing the streets of human feces.
With the homelessness, the drugs, the mental health issues, the severe lack of facilities for over 8000 people living on the streets, SF has a lot of issues to address. Cleaning the homeless out of the Tenderloin area in July 2020, only pushed the problem into surrounding areas. People living in the areas where the homeless migrated to said they were leaving.
Corruption in Public Works
By the end of November 2020, complaints about trash on the streets went up, feces went down and so did needles. NBC also addressed questionable spending in the Public Works the department responsible for street cleaning. I'm sure nobody raised an eyebrow when Mohammed Nuru, Director of Public Works resigned after being arrested on corruption charges. He's in the centre of an FBI investigation, too. Seriously, it's like something out of The Wire.
Earlier in November 2020, voters in the city of San Francisco decided to create a brand new city department to take care of cleaning the streets and sidewalks and removing trash and graffiti. The frustrating news is that it'll likely take two years to get up and running and will cost $6 million.
The city has one of the most noticeable wealth and poverty divides. Finally, the homelessness situation is being addressed. In April 2021, Abigail Stewart-Kahn the former interim manager of the SF Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) listed several ways the city was responding to the situation by buying hotels and opening 4 hotels for shelter in place accommodation, paid for by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). It's also working with landlords of properties in different parts of the city now vacant after people left the city and looking to house formerly homeless people.
Matt Haney SF District 6 Supervisor and Budget Chair, believes more can be done. Especially in a scenario where the Federal Government pay San Francisco to bring everybody off the streets. He aims to keep going with the shelter in place hotel model and purchase additional properties, a model HSH plans to pursue. Getting all 8,000 homeless people into clean safe places to aid them on their journeys to support themselves
Maybe the dream of strolling through the Loin will become reality after all.