San Francisco’s Homeless Problem As Viewed Through Human Poop

A giant poop cloud over the streets of San Francisco exposes the city’s persistent inequality.

San Francisco’s homeless population, at the city’s last count, numbered more than 7,000 individuals, including youth. There are many ways to benchmark San Francisco’s response to its chronic homelessness problem–like the amount of money the city spends each year or the number of supportive housing units built. But there’s also another litmus test for the kind of impact all these efforts have: How many people are still forced to shit on the street?


Jenn Wong, a San Francisco-based developer, mapped the problem using 311 calls in the city reporting human waste. The resulting visualization, (Human) Wasteland, can be filtered by month or by specific neighborhood, or viewed as a (steaming) heatmap amalgamation of all the data. A link to San Francisco’s 311 service allows you to report your own poop sighting, and you can even search a specific address to mine the data for the likelihood that you will step in human feces there.

Downtown San Franscisco–the Mission, SoMa, Civic Center, the Tenderloin–is swimming in human excrement. (A caveat: there may be some reporting bias, since the data doesn’t catalogue every street poop in the city, just the ones that get called in.) The very neighborhoods being colonized by the technology industry are (surprise!) also touch points for how the city accommodates its least fortunate residents–people who don’t even have access to a bathroom.

As SF Weekly staffer Rachel Swan wrote earlier this year:

In a city that’s constantly reimagining itself, a restroom isn’t just a place to pee, after all. It’s part of a larger dialogue about who owns the public space. It’s a piece of architecture that’s at once public and intimate, where the landed gentry have to squat right alongside the city’s poor…For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city’s anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy.

Restrooms are a subtle social battleground, one full of signs denoting who has the right to pee and who does not. For the well-to-do, a relatively clean restroom is never farther away than the nearest Starbucks, where the price of admission is a $3 latte. For those who can’t get past the “Customers Only” sign, a lack of toilets which are truly public serves as just another way to make urban living harder on the poor.

Check out (Human) Wasteland here, and for better insight into San Franscico’s public toilet history, make sure to read SF Weekly’s coverage.

[h/t: Boing Boing]


About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.