Stepping over a pile of used hypodermic needles, condoms and an unknown liquid, Ms. Jane Q. Officeworker made her way to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station entrance.
The smell of excrement wafted up from the semi-darkness. The escalators were out again. She began descending the multitude of steps into the darkness. It was seven-thirty in the morning and this was a typical occurrence. The escalators frequently became so clogged with fecal matter that BART management had to routinely disassemble them and scrape the human feces from the gears and mechanisms that allow them to function properly. It seems the escalators offer a certain amount of privacy for the city’s very large homeless population to do their business.
She barely batted an eye as she noticed a man who appeared to be fondling himself at the bottom of the steps. In the back of her mind she thought she recognized him as the man who had been fondling himself on the train the previous day. To her right, a man covered in sores was injecting a fluid-filled syringe into his forearm.
In the subterranean passage from one entrance of the station to the turnstiles, drug dealers lined the hallway, leaning against the walls. In the middle of the hall, people shuffled about, zombie-like. These were mostly users who had either already used or were about to use.
This scene has become all too common in San Francisco, a city once universally known for its gleaming cable cars and majestic Golden Gate Bridge. I remember visiting the city as a kid and admiring the sights and atmosphere of this popular tourist destination. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area as a teenager, it was the ultimate experience to escape from the suburbs for the day and go to the city.
I would definitely hesitate to bring my children to visit San Francisco these days.
With over 16,000 feces complaints in one week, San Francisco is now known for its filthy streets. The problem has gotten so out of hand that the city of San Francisco has announced the creation of a “Poop Patrol” to steam-clean sidewalks and clean up feces. There have even been apps created for the purpose of reporting feces on city streets, and poop-map apps for alerting visitors to the parts of the city where they need to watch their step.
With the average rent in San Francisco being upwards of $3,500, the lack of affordable housing is certainly an underlying issue. Many of my friends from high school and college who remained in the area are now struggling with extremely-high housing costs, even in the surrounding areas. While not to the point of seeking privacy on escalators, many of them have been forced to move in with their parents or other family members—not the most desirable outcome for someone in their forties.
Issues such as drug addiction and generally lax laws have also played a role in creating (burdening) a city where there are more drug addicts than high school students. Perhaps the inevitable loss of revenue from tourism and industry conferences will be the tipping point necessary to treat and stop the decay of San Francisco.
This article was originally published in 2019.