Hundreds of dirty hypodermic needles dumped in Duboce Triangle

People who live in one San Francisco neighborhood say someone dumped hundreds of dirty hypodermic needles on the sidewalk last Friday.

Neighbors in the Duboce Triangle area say it's indicative of bigger problem: the city's large number of drug users and homeless people.

At Duboce Park this morning, dozens of children happily rode bicycles and scooters, shot hoops and climbed on the play structure. But parents were visibly on edge when they spotted a homeless couple who had slept overnight on the playground. They called police for help.

"It's a common occurrence when we come to the park here in the morning that some people have turned the kids' playground into a camp," said David Lytle, whose children Zeke and Miguel, ages two and eight respectively, played nearby.

When the couple saw our KTVU camera crew, the man turned hostile, charging at photographer Chandler Landon. "You are harassing the homeless!" the woman screamed, adding an expletive as punctuation. 

Police arrived after 40 minutes. By then, the homeless pair had wandered off. Two officers told KTVU that they had been dealing with homeless calls since 6 a.m.

But homelessness is only part of the problem here, according to Lytle.

"We've had people defacate on our steps," said Lytle, who lives just around the corner on Sanchez and 14th Street. "There's needles, joints, empty bottles, spit ,vomit."

Last Friday Lytle's neighbor, David Paul Burke, took a photo of himself sweeping up hundreds of dirty needles near his home.

"That was the worst that I had ever seen," lamented Lytle. "There must have been 300 of them."

Burke said he put the needles in a bag and gave it to firefighters at the local firehouse so they could dispose of the needles.

San Francisco Public Works officials warns people not to try to clean up needles themselves, but to call 311 instead.

Last month, Department of Public Works crews picked up more than 17,500 discarded needles just from homeless encampments. Over the past year, that number was more than 101,000.

"I find it very disturbing," said Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who oversees District 8 and understands how homelessness and drug use often go hand in hand.

"For me, we have a Department of Homelessness; their budget is north of $220 million, this was established specifically to address this problem," said Sheehy.

"San Francisco provides shelter to over 5,500 people each year and helps approximately 2,500 people exit homeless annually," said Dept of Homelessness Director, Jeff Kositsky. " Our fiscal year budget invests in proven interventions, such as navigation centers and housing subsidies, to provide even more people with a path out of homelessness."

But with more than 22,000 thousand estimated intravenous drug users living in the city and only 7,000 documented homeless people on any given night, city officials say the drug problem is bigger than the just the homeless.

The Department of Public Health has also taken action, with two kiosks for needle drops, one near the Bill Graham Civic Center, the other at 1380 Howard Street.

Lytle and Burke say they'd like to see solutions start at their doorstep.

"I wish we had more police presence, foot patrol. We had a beat patrol for while, that seemed to make a difference," said Lytle.

But Sheehy disagrees.

"The chief says they're doing 5-6,000 calls a month just for homelessness. So that means broken windows, houses being broken into, other sorts of serious crime, isn't being attended to. At the end of the day, [police] are not the equipped to deal with the issue. It really is kind of like the last resort."

Last week we reported on the task force that will be reporting to the board of supervisors in the coming months on the cost effectiveness of safe-injection sites for intravenous drug users in the city with options for counselors who would help them get clean. It's another way to get the needles off the streets.