This Is San Diego’s New Homeless Shelter:

When:  A recent September morning.

Where:  Park Boulevard and J Street, downtown San Diego, CA.

A tourist stands on a sidewalk, looking at the above building.  As a passerby – who happens to be a San Diego resident – approaches, the tourist asks a question.

Tourist:  Excuse me, hello!  I’ve been admiring this beautiful building – do you know what it is?

Resident:  I do – it’s San Diego’s newest homeless shelter.

Tourist:  That’s…a homeless shelter?

Resident:  Yes!  And (a bit boastfully) I happen to know quite a lot about it.  Would you like to know more?

Tourist:  I would!

Resident:  Well, everyone wants to know “What did that building cost?”  In today’s money, it cost $250 million.  It’s more than 360,000 square feet, and nine stories.  And you see that dome?

Tourist:  Yes, I was wondering about that.

Resident:  That’s a steel-and-mesh lattice dome.  We’ve come to think of it as iconic – it’s recognizable from all over downtown:

Resident:  The shelter has a state-of-the-art theater that seats 300…

Resident:  And a dining room with wonderful views…

Resident:  Free Wi-Fi…

Resident:  And a nice outdoor area…

Resident:  And plenty space around the building if the homeless would rather pitch their tents there than sleep inside:

Tourist:  Well, I am just amazed by all this. 

Resident:  Yes, it’s impressive, isn’t it?  Oh – I didn’t mention, the building has won several awards, and…Hey – since you’re so interested, why don’t you take a tour?

Tourist:  They give tours…of a homeless shelter?

Resident:  Sure do!  Or – kill two birds with one stone!  You like art?  Take an art gallery tour…

Tourist:  An art gallery?  Wow!  I have to say…I’m amazed at what you’re doing here.  My city – well, every city could learn a lot from San Diego about taking care of the homeless. 

Resident:   Well, we do think of San Diego as America’s Finest City.  Although…I should mention that…ah…that this building didn’t start out as a homeless shelter.

Tourist:  Oh?

Resident:  No.  It started out as the San Diego Central Library.

*****

No, this conversation hasn’t happened.  Yet.

According to this article:

“…the majority of patrons at downtown’s Central Library are homeless.”

The article attributes this imbalance – in part – to this:

“The ratio has been amplified, in part, because of a nationwide decrease in library visits over the past several years while the number of people living without shelter has increased.”

The article does not suggest – so I will – that a decrease in library visits may also have something to do with the Central Library becoming a less desirable destination.  The article quotes San Diego Public Library Director Misty Jones:

“‘We need to make this a safe place for everybody,’ she said, adding that incidents involving drug use and psychotic episodes are a daily occurrence at the library, and too often the solution is to escort a person off-site, sometimes with instructions not to return.

“There has been a string of overdoses at the Central Library, and a homeless person died by suicide after jumping from an upper floor of the library in August 2019.”

Perhaps Mom is disinclined to take her child to the Central Library in case they encounter this:

This is a big problem – and it’s not a new problem.

In 2015, two years after the Central Library opened, according to this article:

“About 3,000 people visit the library every day, and staff estimates about a third of those are homeless, an issue officials knew existed way before opening the facility.

“But in just a 60-day period, the Central Library had 60 calls to service by the San Diego Police Department.  The types of disturbances included 11 calls involving some kind of violent behavior, four robberies and nine welfare checks.

“[Misty Jones, the San Diego Public Library director] admits they have had to increase the number of temporary suspension letters to patrons because of behavioral issues.  They also see the need to boost their uniformed police presence inside.”

The NBC 7 story goes back even further – to 2010 – and a City Council member saying that the Central Library…

“…would become an economic boondoggle or turn into a gold-plated daycare center for the homeless.

The Central Library may not be a gold-plated daycare center for the homeless – yet – but they’ve certainly rolled out the metaphorical welcome mat for them.

Back to the Union-Tribune article:

“The Central Library already has a Veterans Resource Center staffed by People Assisting the Homeless, and another office staffed with an outreach worker from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“In the fall semester, another office will be staffed by SDSU intern Maria Temporal, who is earning a master’s degree in social work…to provide another level of help for homeless people, as she is a trained mental health therapist who can do one-on-one counseling.”

“San Diego Public Library Director Misty Jones welcomes the addition of the social worker…and she is optimistic the move will create a better environment for all library visitors.”

The article also talks about Lianne Urada, an associate professor of social work at SDSU, who’s done research into how libraries can address homelessness in their cities.  She said:

“The public library presents a unique opportunity to access an otherwise hidden population.”

Urada said the Central Library is following a national trend of major cities recognizing the role libraries can play as a type of homeless services provider, and that “a growing number of libraries across the country are providing assistance to their homeless patrons…At least 31 other libraries in the country have added social workers and other social services professionals to their teams.”

And while the Central Library does have a homeless and mental health office, said Urada…

“‘What they need is to have some professional social worker who can really help with crisis management.’”

So…

“Libraries as a type of homeless services provider.”

“Crisis management” at a public library.

“Drug use…psychotic episodes…suicide…violent behavior”

I say:  Enough is enough.

I am aware of how fortunate I am to have a home and food and so many things that homeless people do not.  I have compassion for the homeless, and I know that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

I know that anyone – including me – can become homeless.

I do not – and never have – objected to my tax dollars being spent on helping homeless people, whether the need is temporary and permanent housing services, food, clothing, health care, substance use treatments and more.

And according to MyNeighbor.org, a San Diego nonprofit, my tax dollars are spent to help the homeless.

On a city level:

“In the 2020-2021 San Diego budget, the city spent $64 million through its Homelessness Strategies Department, which oversees and develops homelessness-related programs and services.”

And at the state level:

“$10.7 billion has been earmarked in the 2021-22 budget to fund 50 housing and homelessness-related programs across California.”

And the federal level:

“…in 2021, the U.S. federal government enacted over $51 billion in funding for selected homelessness and housing programs.

But damn it, I do not agree with a library evolving into a “gold-plated day care center for the homeless.”

I say it’s time for public libraries to stop kowtowing to the homeless and start prioritizing the people who pay for public libraries to exist:

Us.

The taxpayers.

How to do that?

Here’s how:

Ask people entering the library for current proof of residency.

The California DMV – and probably your state, as well – has a list of documents it accepts as proof of residency including a rental/lease agreement with signatures of the owner/landlord and the tenant/resident; deed/title to residential real property; mortgage bill; home utility bill…

You’d like to visit the library?

Just show your current proof of residency.

Is it a nuisance?

Yes, it’s a small nuisance.

Certainly a smaller nuisance than this:

And if someone is a tourist who wants to visit the library, they’re required to show their out-of-state driver license.

I believe this is worth trying.

I believe this will help us take back our libraries.

It’s time to rescue this:

And all public libraries…

From this:

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