Of­fended by soiled streets, city on of­fen­sive with ‘poop pa­trol’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Janie Har

SAN FRAN­CISCO — The side­walks sur­round­ing Ahmed Al Barak’s cor­ner mar­ket in one of San Fran­cisco’s rough­est neigh­bor­hoods are filled with card­board, used sy­ringes and home­less peo­ple who have nowhere safe to go at night.

But Al Barak says it’s an im­prove­ment from a year ago, be­fore the city posted a por­ta­ble toi­let across the street from his busi­ness in the city’s Ten­der­loin district.

He no longer reg­u­larly sees peo­ple re­lieve them­selves in broad day­light, and he does not see as much fe­ces and urine on the streets. In his opin­ion, it’s the one bright spot in a city where taxes are too high.

“We used to have a dis­as­ter here. I used to call the city all the time to come and clean, be­cause they don’t know where to go,” he said, re­call­ing one woman in par­tic­u­lar who shrugged at him in a “what can you do?” ges­ture as she squat­ted to uri­nate.

San Fran­cisco started its “Pit Stop” pro­gram in July 2014 with public toi­lets in the city’s home­less-heavy Ten­der­loin, af­ter chil­dren com­plained of dodg­ing hu­man waste on their way to school. To­day, the staffed bath­rooms have grown from three to 25 lo­ca­tions, and the pro­gram has ex­panded to Los An­ge­les. In May, the toi­lets in San Fran­cisco recorded nearly 50,000 flushes, all logged by at­ten­dants.

The con­di­tion of San Fran­cisco’s streets has been a source of em­bar­rass­ment to city lead­ers, and clean­ing up is not cheap. The city re­ceived nearly 27,000 re­quests for fe­ces re­moval in the most re­cent fis­cal year, al­though not all are hu­man.

Mayor Lon­don Breed last year an­nounced the for­ma­tion of a spe­cial six­per­son “poop pa­trol” team where each cleaner earns more than $70,000 a year.

Ad­vo­cates say steam clean­ing re­quests have dropped in areas sur­round­ing some of the public toi­lets. The mayor signed a bud­get Thurs­day that in­cludes money for seven new Pit Stop bath­rooms for a city where a one-night count of home­less peo­ple grew 17% in the past two years. The toi­lets each cost an av­er­age of $200,000 a year to op­er­ate, with most of the money go­ing to staffing and over­head.

Some of the bath­rooms are per­ma­nent fix­tures, while oth­ers are porta­bles with two toi­lets that are trucked in and out. The stops have re­cep­ta­cles for used sy­ringes and dog waste. At­ten­dants who are paid the city’s min­i­mum wage of $16 an hour check af­ter ev­ery use and knock on doors to make sure peo­ple are not do­ing drugs or other il­licit ac­tiv­ity.

The staffing is what makes a toi­let a Pit Stop, and the work is usu­ally done by men com­ing out of prison af­ter decades be­hind bars.

The “prac­ti­tion­ers” stand guard at some of so­ci­ety’s bleak­est in­ter­sec­tions of poverty, ad­dic­tion and men­tal ill­ness, says Lena Miller, founder of non­profit Hunters Point Fam­ily and its spinoff, Ur­ban Alchemy, which staffs the Pit Stops in San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les. They pre­vent over­doses, break up fights and greet reg­u­lars, she says.

“Re­ally what we’re do­ing is we’re cre­at­ing this space where peo­ple know that they can walk into it, and it’s go­ing to smell good. It’s go­ing to look good,” Miller said. “There won’t be trash ev­ery­where, and they’re safe. And I think that makes all the dif­fer­ence in the world.”


An at­ten­dant ex­its a “Pit Stop” public toi­let last week in San Fran­cisco.

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