It happened again. Last week, Forbes published a piece under the
headline “Mapping San Francisco’s Human Waste Challenge,”
allegedly pinpointing the locations of over 132,000 cases of
human poop on the city’s public sidewalks since 2011.
Adam Andrzejewski, onetime Republican candidate for governor of
Illinois, penned the op-ed for Forbes. His nonprofit Open the
Books (which pledges to “capture and post every dime taxed and
spent at every level of government across America”) compiled the
map using SF Department of Public Works (DPW) reports.
Andrzejewski isn’t the first to chronicle what happens when San
Francisco’s number one public problem turns out to be number two.
In 2014, software engineer Jennifer Wong created the site Human
Wasteland to record and map feces-related 311 complaints. Wong
says that its intent is to “bring attention to the issue of
In late 2018, Realty Hop did much the same, expelling maps for
San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City, and revealing that SF
had more than ten times the number of crapshoots as NYC and
nearly 21 times as many as Chicago in 2017.
San Jose Mercury News noted in 2018 that the maps have taken on
a political context, with right-wing commentators sometimes
citing them as a way to criticize San Francisco’s homeless
According to Andrzejewski, “Since 2011, there have been at least
118,352 reported instances of human fecal matter on city
streets. [...] Last year, the number of reports spiked to an all-
time high at 28,084.”
Nobody doubts that San Francisco’s streets are getting dirtier.
Last year, then-Mayor Mark Farrell directed an extra $12.8
million toward street cleaning in response to public complaints,
including a five-person “poop patrol” specifically aimed at
However, alleged human poop maps have a problem, which may be
posed in the form of a disgusting conundrum: How do you
distinguish human poop on a city sidewalk from, say, dog poop?
The answer, according to DPW spokesperson Rachel Gordon, is you
Take a seat inside these new ‘Painted Ladies’-style toilets
“We do not differentiate between the origins of the waste,”
Gordon told Curbed SF via email. “We treat all as a priority for
Gordon adds, “We do believe that dogs are responsible for many
of the incidents” and that DPW is launching a new public program
dubbed “Doo the Right Thing” to encourage people to clean up
after their dogs.
Sources like the SF Controller’s office’s Street and Sidewalk
Maintenance Standards report chronicle thousands of feces
complaints each year, but never distinguish the specific nature
of the deposits.
San Francisco Animal Care and Control estimated that San
Francisco was home to as many as 150,000 dogs in 2016.
Andrzejewski tells Curbed SF that, despite Gordon’s comments,
the data used for the latest map is very particular about the
nature of the incidents.
“The city specifically tagged the cases as ‘human waste’ in the
database after 311 call reporting. It’s the city disclosure that
we mapped. We did not manipulate the data,” says Andrzejewski.
However, in response to this Gordon told Curbed SF once again
that “311 classifies it as human or animal waste” when a call
In practical terms this is not a particularly important
distinction: Regardless of where it all came from, residents
want it cleaned up; an influx of complaints about street waste
is not made any less dire by splitting hairs about its source.
Nor should anyone lose sight of the fact that, by the city's
latest count, SF had 7.499 residents on the streets in 2017 (new
count due later this year), and far too few of them have ready
access to bathroom facilities.
Nevertheless, with the politics of homelessness being what they
are, it seems consequential if alleged human poop maps are
inflating SF’s manmade messes, and that political commentators
will no doubt make much of the extra margin.