Critics: New design aims to ‘homeless-proof' San Francisco library

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It's been a neighborhood fixture in the Castro for decades. The San Francisco public library branch named after Harvey Milk is just a block from Market Street on the edge of 16th Street, sandwiched by homes and business alike.

It’s a popular place for families, but that's not all. The library has also become a haven for homeless people who spend time inside and use the bathrooms during business hours, and camp out at night.

While the inside of the library has become a warm and safe escape from the elements, it has also created big issues for the library.

“Someone that was cleaning up, volunteering and cleaning us around the library, got poked by a used syringe,” said one patron who spoke to KTVU outside the library after finding drug paraphernalia laying in the bushes just outside.

Library spokesperson Rebecca Alcala-Veraflor said they’ve received reports of thefts in the parking lot, noise complaints, and litter. The library has added lighting, signs, and stepped up security.

But it’s a proposal presented during a series of community meetings that has drawn the most criticism. At one of those meetings the library presented a Landscape Architecture plan aimed at making the grounds safer. But critics say the designs are actually meant to push away the homeless with the addition of so-called “defensive architecture” elements, such as hard rocks, spiky plants, and metal railings.

VIEW THE PLAN: Click here to see the library design plan presented to the public

“We are not creating a space that falls under the term ‘defensive architecture,’” said Alcala-Veraflor. “That's not what we’re about as a library. We are about making a space welcome to all.”

But not everyone agrees. John King, the Urban Design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle says the library’s design does fall under the term.

“It's probably more honest if you say we’re not trying to defend ourselves against people using this space using this library.  We are defending ourselves against people deciding this is a blank slate and they can take over,” said King.

He added that he understands where the library is coming from in trying to balance the needs of its patrons and the community with safety and security. King calls the design proposal yet another result of the tension of urban living and the balancing act between an open door and safe usage.

“It really is a sign of the times in a city where the balancing the line just seems so fragile these days,” said King.

The first phase of the design plan is underway and expected to be completed by the end of the summer. Phase two is scheduled to begin immediately after, with completion estimated this fall.