What it's like living on the dirtiest street in San Francisco

Monday the NY Times published a story titled “Life on the Dirtiest Block in San Francisco.” The Times identified the block by asking the city which street had received the most calls reporting filth. The answer was Hyde street in the Tenderloin district. There have been 2,227 complaints about a section of Hyde Street over the past decade:


At 8 a.m. on a recent day, as mothers shepherded their children to school, we ran into Yolanda Warren, a receptionist who works around the corner from Hyde Street. The sidewalk in front of her office was stained with feces. The street smelled like a latrine.

“Some parts of the Tenderloin, you’re walking, and you smell it and you have to hold your breath,” Ms. Warren said…

“It’s like the land of the living dead,” said Adam Leising, a resident of Hyde Street…

Mr. Leising, who is the founder of the Lower Hyde Street Association, a nonprofit that holds cleanup activities on the street, feels that the city is not cracking down on the drug trade on the block because they don’t want it to spread elsewhere.

“It’s obvious that it’s a containment zone,” Mr. Leising said. “These behaviors are not allowed in other neighborhoods.”

The NY Times piece actually followed a story which published over the weekend by the San Francisco Chronicle. That story featured police officers complaining that drug dealers were going unpunished in the Tenderloin and other neighborhoods. It also suggested the city’s new mayor, London Breed, didn’t have much of a plan to do anything about the problem.

There were over 1,000 reader responses to the NY Times story and some of those are even more revealing than the article itself. Patrick writes:

The streets are totally and completely out of control. I walk about three miles from home to work some days to work. Every time I do it, I risk stepping on needles (saw one today, and I see at least one most days), human feces and urine (which is on every block), trash (littered everywhere from leftover encampments), or bumping into drug dealers (especially near Civic Center), drifters, and passed out junkies.


Reader “scotharr” wrote that the problem is not limited to this one street:

I want to make clear that this is not just an issue for the Tenderloin, which can always be dismissed as the “sketchy” part of town. I’ve lived in the Castro for 20 years and the homeless situation has been established in the last few years and continues to flourish. Take a walk through the residential streets in the morning and you will find people sleeping in doorways, behind bushes and hidden stairways, often leaving behind their refuse and scraps of clothing. There are now panhandlers every day stationed throughout the 2 block business center, and the drug-addled freely urinate and defecate around that area. Even when cleaned, the sidewalks are stained and repulsive throughout the city. I don’t know what the answer is, but what is currently being done is clearly not working, and the result will be a drop in tourist revenue, with businesses and long-time residents moving away. It’s very difficult for a tax-paying resident to maintain empathy and ward off cynicism.

A reader named “L” backed up that conclusion and said she had moved out of the city because of the aggressiveness of its homeless people:

I moved away from the Bay Area because of this issue. The Tenderloin is the neighborhood where the problem is the worst. But even outside the Tenderloin, the problem is bad enough that it affects safety and quality of life. What the article failed to mention is how aggressive homeless people are to non-homeless people. Someone I know was punched in the face by a homeless person. My neighbor was pushed in the street. My friend had a wadded up ball of greasy, ketchup-y fast food wrapping thrown in her face. I had a homeless person start screaming and raising his fists as if to attack me — when a man behind me on the street yelled, “LEAVE HER ALONE!!” and came running to help. (Two other homeless people tried to do things to me too — three incidents in only two years.) You have to think about your safety constantly in the Bay Area. I finally realized I could move to a city where I didn’t have to constantly fear for my safety, so I moved back to NYC, where I had previously lived before for over a decade and never thought about my safety once the whole time I was there, and where I never had any instance of a homeless person trying to do anything to me.


“BrainThink” says the city should be embarrassed by this “cesspool”:

The city should be rightfully embarrassed by the TL. While there are folks in the TL trying to do good, especially Glide, it really does have a third-world feel just blocks from some of the offices of tech’s biggest companies. I can’t imagine what it’s like for residents that live in the TL itself. The TL has been nasty for at least 20 years, and it’s long overdue that the city finally put an end to this urban refugee camp / crime center / cesspool.

San Francisco is a wealthy city that is already spending more than any city in the U.S. dealing with homelessness, but clearly what it is doing now is not working. Ultimately, I don’t think there is a permanent solution but the situation could be improved by cracking down on the drug dealers who thrive on human misery. The tolerance San Francisco prides itself on has been extended to drug users and street people, creating a lax atmosphere where anything goes. Of course, the drugs are often a big part of why these people are living on the street in the first place. Expecting more from street people and cracking down on illegal behavior in these neighborhoods would probably benefit at least some of them and would make life much more pleasant for the working residents of these areas.

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