Sickening issue with tourist city
WARNING: Graphic image.
"I LEFT my heart in San Francisco.
"High on a hill, it calls to me. To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars. The morning fog may chill the air, I don't care."
So the popular Tony Bennett song goes about one of the world's most-visited destinations. But in recent years, it seems the tide has turned against this tourist mecca, and instead of fondly remembering their visits, travellers hope to quickly forget the horrors they witnessed.
How did the once much-loved - and stunning - city end up so down in the dumps?
Formerly famous for the distinct smell of pot wafting down its dizzyingly steep streets and out of the windows of passing cars, the picturesque metropolis has reached notoriety for a different kind of smell: faeces.
That's right, the city made headlines over a recent incident where a bag containing nine kilograms of human poo was dumped on the pavement, where it remained for hours leeching out a horrendous smell.
"Twenty pounds of faeces dumped onto sidewalk," a report uploaded to a crime app for the city stated alongside a photo that was then shared on Reddit.
Sadly, that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the city's poo problem. The Post noted that "human waste-related complaints in San Francisco have skyrocketed 400 per cent from 2008 to 2018," with more than 21,000 reports in 2017 alone.
And that's far from the only issue. While San Fran has always had a high rate of homelessness and drug use, the situation has taken a dramatic turn of late.
It's now reached a crisis point for the city; it has just suffered a loss of an estimated $US40 million ($A54 million) when a major medical body pulled its annual convention because its members "no longer feel safe". The open drug use, assaults, mental illness and threatening behaviour on the streets have proven too much.
City statistics show there are 7500 homeless people living on the streets at any time, and they are often seen shooting up heroin and smoking methamphetamine in broad daylight.
There were 10,000 needles taken off the streets in March, according to the city's Department of Public Works, compared to just 3000 the same period a year prior.
"It's the first time that we have had an out-and-out cancellation over the issue, and this is a group that has been coming here every three or four years since the 1980s," Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of S.F. Travel, the city's convention bureau, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Tourism is the biggest industry in San Francisco, with visitors flocking to check out the likes of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, drive the extremely steep and crazy streets such as Lombard St, ride the cable cars and see the seals at famous Pier 39.
Despite the problems, the tourism industry brings in more than $12 billion every year, with around 25 million visitors annually. US and international tourists continue to flock to the city by the bay with an increase in visitors of 1.7 per cent in 2017 and a projected increase of 2.6 per cent, according to the San Francisco Travel Association.
"When these things leave, it affects all of us - the taxi, the hotel, the restaurant," Hotel Council of San Francisco executive director Kevin Carroll told local media following news of the trade show pulling out of the city.
"We need to be concerned."
Part of the problem, the NY Post notes, is that few quality-of-life offences such as public drunkenness and urination have been prosecuted since 2015, a move which in turn has seen the quality of life for locals and tourists drop. Tickets are still issued, but no action is taken when they ignored.
Tourist Kathy summed up the problems perfectly on a recent Yelp post:
"I went back to SF after 15 years as I had a beautiful time during my last visit. It was sad to see what a dump this beautiful city has become. I still recommend visiting SF but with a lot of reservations, especially if you are travelling with kids. This is what we experienced in most areas within the city:
1. Smell of urine everywhere we walked around the city;
2. Visible human faeces in certain locations;
3. On a couple of occasions we saw hypodermic needles at Ghirardelli and Union Square;
4. Homeless people laying all over the sidewalks as soon as it gets dark;
5. Homeless/mentally ill people shouting filth in front of my kids;
6. Smell of marijuana in popular tourist areas in broad daylight, exposing my kids to it.
"I am not against homeless people and I am not against people having the right to use marijuana but there is a time, place and a manner in which these issues should be addressed as oppose(d) to turning a blind eye and allowing the city as a whole to deteriorate over time. "The politicians need to do a better job to address these issues and find the right balance between social welfare, laws and tourism as a major source of income for this city. I am not sure why such a popular family … destination would be allowed to deteriorate to such a deplorable state that it made me uncomfortable walking around town with my kids."
Another wrote: "San Fran Cesspool & San Fransicko is more like it."
"San Francisco is getting so un-touristy with this homeless issue that it is not fun to visit anymore," a fellow tourist agreed.
The explosion in drug use is very apparent, according to this review: "Nasty dirty city. With homeless people everywhere … Every time I go to SF I see crackheads shooting up drugs. And drug needles all over the place."
Many simply no longer feel safe, as another Yelp reviewer wrote: "I feel like I'm always looking over my shoulder, getting everything out of my car to put it in the trunk, fearful of being a crime victim."
These are all issues that new mayor London Breed is determined to address.
In her second full day in office, the 43-year-old who grew up in public housing in the Western Addition neighbourhood of San Francisco, took an unannounced walk through the Tenderloin district, passing needles and human excrement, in a bid to show that she means to clean up the streets.