San Francisco's dirtiest street has an outdoor drug market, discarded heroin needles, and piles of poop on the footpath

  • City statisticians identified Hyde Street’s 300 block as the dirtiest street in San Francisco.
  • The street is home to an overwhelming presence of homeless residents – including drug dealers, addicts, and the mentally ill – who leave behind piles of faeces and discarded needles.
  • Residents report having to hose down urine in front of their offices or hold their breath to avoid the stench of faeces.
  • Hyde Street is located in the Tenderloin neighbourhood, which houses both extreme poverty and extreme wealth.

The Tenderloin neighbourhood has long been considered the heart of San Francisco’s homelessness epidemic. It’s also home to pockets of extreme wealth, including the headquarters of major tech companies like Twitter and Uber.

To drill down on the epicentre of the crisis, a recent New York Times inquiry set out to find the dirtiest block in San Francisco. After asking statisticians to compile a list of streets with the most neighbourhood complaints regarding footpath cleanliness, the Times landed on a winner: Hyde Street’s 300 block, which received more than 2,200 complaints over the last decade.

A visit to the block yields a harrowing sight of drug addicts and mentally ill residents, many of whom are part of the city’s overwhelmingly large homeless population. During the day, drug users host an outdoor market of sorts, selling heroin, crack cocaine, and amphetamines along the footpaths.

Tenants report having to hose down urine in front of their offices or hold their breath to avoid the stench of faeces. One local shop owner even said that drug users break off twigs from nearby trees to clean their crack pipes.

Though San Francisco has rolled out a massive cleanup effort in the last year, it’s had a tough time getting ahead of the crisis. The Public Health Department claims to have collected more than 164,000 needles from the Tenderloin neighbourhood in August, while the Public Works Department has picked up another 100,000 in the last year.

That’s in spite of the city spending $US54 million on street cleaning. It’s a number that’s expected to climb to $US60 million by 2019. Members of the city’s “poop patrol” earn more than $US184,000 a year to clean up faeces – a testament to how seriously the city takes the problem.

The city has also set aside nearly $US3 million for a “hot spots” crew in charge of cleaning the areas near homeless encampments, and another $US1 million for updates to Pit Stop, a program providing mobile toilets and dog-waste stations.

While the Tenderloin – and Hyde Street in particular – soak up a good portion of these funds, the issue of footpath filth and rampant homelessness plagues many neighbourhoods throughout the city.

“I’ve lived in the Castro for 20 years and the homeless situation … continues to flourish,” one resident wrote in to the Times. Added another: “I’ve been here 60 years and I am, saddened to say, ready to leave.”

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