Poop on the streets has another obvious cause: a lack of restroom access. Many businesses restrict their bathrooms to customers only, precisely because they don’t want their facilities to be frequented by the homeless. But the “privatization of bathrooms” means people are left without obvious places to go. There are even websites offering tips on how to go to the bathroom in San Francisco, such as by pretending to be interested in furniture at Crate & Barrel or finding the “hidden gem” of a bathroom on the second floor of a Banana Republic. The city has installed 25 small self-cleaning public toilets and recently commissioned a set of futuristic-looking new bathrooms, but a few dozen toilets for a city of 870,000 is woefully insufficient. Bathroom access should be considered a basic right, and it’s worth considering the idea of banning “customers only” toilets. In a city with generous public spaces and a commitment to equal access, no one would ever have to use the street.
But bathrooms are only part of the problem. Housing itself is just as much a contributor. San Francisco spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on anti-homelessness initiatives, but it has only managed to keep the number of homeless people from growing further. There are still 7,500 homeless residents who have no chance of finding accommodation in a city where a studio apartment costs $2,500 a month. This kind of inequality demands a radical solution. For all the talk about encouraging developers to build affordable housing, a better plan may simply be to have the city build housing itself. As Peter Gowan and Ryan Cooper put it in a report for the People’s Policy Project, “social housing” has gotten a bad reputation over the years, but partly because it has never been invested in properly. Gowan and Cooper say the solution is simpler than it looks: cities with housing crises need to simply build houses.