I-Team

Nob Hill bus stop becomes woman's bathroom

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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People living in a San Francisco neighborhood have been complaining to the I-Team that the city has failed to help them with a touchy situation. Day after day, a mentally-ill woman uses their bus stop as her personal bathroom. Officials just can't quite figure out what to do.

Before he passed away, our colleague, Pete Wilson, did a series of reports titled, "The City That Forgot How." I kept coming back to Pete's words, the more I found out about the story. From City Hall to the police and health departments to San Francisco General Hospital, no one's come up with a solution.

It's just another morning on Nob Hill at Clay and Leavenworth streets. The corner market's opening up. People are walking their dogs.

And here comes the No. 27 bus from the Mission. Suzie Wong, 66, who goes by the name Ling Ling, gets off the bus and right out in the open, takes care of business -- no matter who's watching. She crosses the street, and catches the No. 1 bus for Chinatown.

"I've seen adults step in her feces when they're not looking, they're watching their cellphones, I've seen little kids step in the feces, I've seen pets step into the feces and they're going to track it back into people's homes," neighbor John Marcus said.

"I'm right here at ground zero for the whole show," Alex Wilson said.

It's not what Wilson had in mind when she moved to Nob Hill with her husband and 7-month-old daughter, Charlie.

"We'd hear kids' voices, like, 'Mommy, what is that? What's that lady doing?' People trying to steer away from it and stuff. It was funny at first, but then it just got really gross," Wilson said.

The ad on the bus stop says "Explore Nature," but moms in the neighborhood wish their kids didn't have this lesson in human anatomy and bodily functions.

The neighbors are so concerned that Ling Ling is hurting their quality of life that they're documenting her morning visits with photographs and video.

The I-Team caught her in the act time and again, and realized that when she doesn't relieve herself on Nob Hill, she often does it on Stockton Street in Chinatown -- again, right out in the open, sometimes with school kids walking by, shocked. Then, she heads to her usual spot to panhandle.

"It was just awful, it was just awful," Tom Johnson, of Le Beau Market, said.

Johnson remembers the first time he saw Ling Ling in action last year, and since then, he's called 311 dozens of times for clean up. Johnson keeps a running list of his 311 complaint numbers, and the department of public works confirms they've sent crews to spray wash Ling Ling's mess at least 44 times in the past six months.

"We call 311 quite often to get them to clean up the mess, but even then, they shouldn't have to do that, there's plenty of other problems they could be cleaning up," Johnson said.

This isn't a story about one lady who clearly has some issues. It's about the response, or lack thereof, by city officials. Are they actually failing Ling Ling? Are they failing the people who live and work in Nob Hill?

"She needs help and the city won't do anything about it, but when someone's defecating on the sidewalk every day, it's a public health hazard," neighbor John Marcus said.

Marcus has been peppering the city with phone calls and emails.

Police responded by detaining Ling Ling at least seven times for a 51-50 psychiatric hold at San Francisco General Hospital. But, officers told the I-Team, most of the time, before they even got back to the station, doctors had let Ling Ling out.

"I would say that we do a very careful assessment of people that are brought here to psychiatric emergency service," Dr. Mark Leary said.

Leary heads psychiatric emergency services at San Francisco General Hospital. He can't discuss Ling Ling's case in particular because of medical privacy laws, but he says a 5150 is for patients in crisis.

"They can be held there for up to 72 hours for the purposes of assessing whether they have a mental illness or not, and whether that mental illness causes them to be a danger to others, to themselves or gravely disabled," Leary said.

That doesn't appear to fit Ling Ling. She's able to use public transportation. She's arranged services through the city -- housing and food. She even has a mental health case worker at a North Beach clinic,

Police told John Marcus to try him.

"And I called him and he said, 'If you want to pay to institutionalize her, then do it,' and he hung up on me," Marcus said.

Marcus got no help from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services either, or from his supervisor, David Chiu. The board president told me the I-Team first started getting phone calls from neighbors about Ling Ling six months ago, but he's been unable to come up with a solution.

"We've had numerous conversations with the city officials that have been working on this, I do think&and part of the answer is we have to think of new innovative ways," Chiu said.

While the supervisor dreams up new, innovative ways, Ling Ling was back at it Wednesday morning. The I-Team's calls finally lead to a familiar face at City Hall who has a new title -- Bevan Dufty, director of Housing, Opportunity, Partnership and Engagement.

After hearing from the I-Team, Dufty said he's been in contact with the district attorney and the police, and they've come up with a plan. Police will issue Ling Ling a ticket for public urination or defecation and she'll have to appear before a judge at the community justice center.

"And people come in with the arm of the justice system wrapped around them, but then, they get the support and services that they need and I think that this individual clearly is getting some services, but not enough to make the right steps and to stop this behavior which is unacceptable," Dufty said.

If Ling Ling does not change her behavior, she could face jail time for violating a court order.

The I-Team asked all the officials involved how much the case has already cost taxpayers? The only clear answer -- "a lot." Think about the police, the mental health counselors, the hospital, the steam cleaning crews, city hall staff, all the different parties involved. It's a difficult case that says a lot about the challenges city leaders face.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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nob hill, i-team, dan noyes
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