Homeless Behavior Stirs Library

 

Officials, locals gather for safety plan

 

 

A group of concerned citizens called for a meeting with Supervisor Scott Wiener and SF Library officials to discuss ongoing problems at the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Branch Library.

 

More than 60 people met in the library on September 14 to discuss continuing issues surrounding homeless encampments on the library grounds and along the intersection of 16th and Prosper streets. In addition, escalating incidents of aggressive behavior by transients while in the library have made some of the residents fear for their safety and that of their children.

 

Supervisor Wiener, an 18-year resident of the neighborhood, told the crowd that the issues of homelessness and street behavior are part of a larger citywide issue. Wiener said the issue should be addressed with a better approach targeting needs of transients, services that can be made available to them and enforcing a basic standard of behavior. He acknowledged that his office has received photos from citizens showing the encampments, garbage strewn about and bicycles being disassembled and stripped.

 

Also speaking were SFPD Mission Station Captain Daniel Perea, Cathy Delneo, chief of branches for the SF Public Libraries, Roberto Lombardi, facilities director for the SF Public Libraries, Greg Carey of Castro Cares, and Riann Parker of the SF Public Health Homeless Outreach Team (HOT).

 

Perea said that officers have a problem compelling people to do what they don’t want to do. The officers can issue citations and fines, but these go mostly unpaid, and when a warrant is issued they are not enforced, as there is not consistency in the city and no prosecution. Perea reiterated that many on the street are there by circumstance, as they have no other place to go. When calls come into the stations, the first question is, “What is the threat to public safety?” Officers respond then as they can, although the number of officers in the city is well below levels that are considered adequate.

 

HOT’s Parker detailed that there are outreach specialists in the Castro every day for at least two hours, and their main concern is getting to know the people on the street and getting them into programs with benefits and medical care. For the roughly 50 percent who refuse help and do not want to move, the goal is to help them “try to be better neighbors.”

 

Carey informed the crowd about Castro Cares, the local program that provides services such as street patrols and beat officers for shifts during late nights and early mornings as well as case officers to assist in guiding people into shelters and the system for benefits. The additional security is paid for by donations from the public and businesses and has made a difference in the neighborhood. Castro Cares is a two-year pilot program to fund additional compassionate help to those living on the street and to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives, works, shops, plays and visits the Castro and Upper Market district. The program is managed by the Castro/Upper Market CBD as the lead organization but includes the SFPD, the Castro Merchants, local neighborhood organizations and associations, the SFDPH, local churches and individual business contributors.

 

Lombardi and Delneo addressed the frequency of library incidents throughout the city and at the Eureka Valley branch, which is in the top tier in numbers of incidents such as transients yelling, swearing, or otherwise harassing people to the point where police officers are called. The incidents are happening both inside and outside the branch and include people sleeping in the planter boxes, pitching tents and camping on the library grounds and even on the roof of the building, as well as other problems such as drinking, drug use and the frequent use of the sidewalks, alleys and front porches of nearby homes as “bathrooms.”

 

The facilities director acknowledged the desire by some citizens to erect a fence around the property and to chain off the parking lot but cautioned that structures such as fences also provide an anchoring point to attach tarps, plywood and other building materials. He asked the citizens in attendance to consider forming a smaller “working group” to meet with the library staff and himself to craft realistic options to make the library a safer and cleaner place. The use of different lighting, more sweeps by DPW, more safety patrols, tree trimming, building a wall or fence and better utilization of the city 311 service were items that were discussed.

 

With the involvement of the Prosper/Pond Neighborhood Group, the Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, Castro Cares and other citizens working with the library staff and the supervisor’s office, a compassionate plan to increase safety and security at the library (and in the neighborhood) can be developed and implemented. Even though the city staff and departments do much work, sometimes citizen action, neighborhood involvement and “ownership” is the key to making a real and lasting change.

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