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Richard Swerdlow (Richard Swerdlow)

Every month city workers remove thousands of needles from the streets. But it's not nearly enough to rid San Francisco of a significant health hazard. 

My friend Sue has stopped wearing sandals. Not because she doesn't have nice sandals, or pretty feet.

It's because she's afraid of stepping on a needle.

And I know a guy who jogs every morning before dawn, but changed his schedule. He's running in daylight to avoid jogging over discarded needles all over the street in his neighborhood.

In San Francisco these days, everyone has a needle-sighting story. Needles on bathroom floors, in parks, on beaches, even schoolyards. BART stations are notorious for needles, and streets in the Tenderloin are needle obstacle courses. Or, even worse than spotting a needle, spotting someone use a needle to actually shoot up. Or, worst of all, getting accidentally stuck with a needle. I know someone who nearly sat on a filthy needle on the 38 Geary bus, catching sight of it just in time. Tourists visiting this celebrated city must be shocked by the syringes littering our sidewalks.


San Francisco, famous for Cable Cars and crab, has a nasty new claim to fame  needles. I've lived here most of my life and never seen a needle on a sidewalk until a few years ago. But now, I see them almost every day. Not like they're hard to notice  more than 10,000 hypodermic needles are swept up every month by the Department of Public Works. Our reputation even reached President Trump, who made a point of mentioning San Francisco's discarded drug needles on a visit here last month.

There are various causes for the syringes of San Francisco, including the opioid epidemic and homeless encampments. And every month Department of Public Health needle exchange programs give out around 400,000 free clean needles, and only about 250,000 used ones are returned.

Despite that presidential jab at San Francisco, drug addiction and homelessness are complicated problems, and most cities are grappling with them. And finding a solution is like, well, looking for a needle in a haystack. But in the meantime, we are all gingerly stepping around ever-increasing numbers of discarded needles.

Dirty needles on sidewalks? With an election coming up, local officials really need to be needled for action on this crisis, for the safety of everyone.

Because the streets of San Francisco should be famous for breathtaking hills and crooked curves. Not for discarded needles.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.