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Finally, San Francisco Is Dealing With Its Poop Epidemic

The innovative solution? A day-time use mobile bathroom. With an attendant!

Finally, San Francisco Is Dealing With Its Poop Epidemic
[Top source photo: Andrey Bayda via Shutterstock]

San Francisco has a poop problem. The city suffers from an excess of excrement on public streets and even in the innards of subway escalators, where it renders them unusable. Part of the issue is that the city has never effectively dealt with its homeless population (there up to 10,000 homeless in the city), and a failure to provide public bathrooms that aren’t eventually shut down because people use them to do drugs.

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Now that’s changing.

This past summer, San Francisco announced the launch of Tenderloin Pit Stop, a series of mobile bathrooms that each comes with a sink, two toilets, a dog waste station, and a needle disposal bin. An attendant stands outside of each bathroom during the day, and bathroomgoers get five minutes to do their business before the attendants come calling. Every evening, the toilets are taken away by the Department of Public Works (DPW) and cleaned.


Each bathroom is placed strategically based on the DPW’s reports of human feces on the street. Those reports tend to be clustered in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood, as you can see on this map, called (Human) Wasteland. Created by a web developer named Jennifer Wong, the map uses complaints about feces and urine phoned into DPW in 2013 (over 5,000 in total) to figure out where the poop problem is worst.

For her efforts, Wong won a prize from her employer, Hotpads (a division of real estate startup Zillow). A portion of her winnings were, according to Reuters, donated to Lava Mae, a San Francisco initiative we’ve covered before that offers mobile showers and toilets (unlike Tenderloin Pit Stop, Lava Mae was started by private citizens).

Tenderloin Pit Stop has been enough of a success that it may soon expand to neighborhoods outside the Tenderloin, and Lava Mae is gearing up for expansion this year, from one mobile wash station bus to four. San Francisco’s public waste problem may be fixed, at least in certain areas, after all.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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