Neighbors near the Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library have complained to police for years about homeless encampments and illegal, socially unacceptable behavior. Police have assembled a specialized team to address the problem, but there are no easy solutions to help neighbors take back their beloved library and park from transients. Photo by Dave Schwab
Neighbors say homeless residents stow property and shopping carts in bushes, deal drugs, blatantly smoke marijuana in public areas and use park bushes for toilets. Photo by Dave Schwab
Pressure is growing to do something about the so-called homeless “tent city” that some in the community fear is getting out of hand at the Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library.
“The library and its park are a magnet for transients,” said Pacific Beach resident Marcella Teran. “The park, especially, has been a hangout for drug dealing, smoking pot and people stowing things in the park bushes and using them as toilets. The surrounding neighbors of Cass, Reed, Thomas and Dawes streets over the last few years have called the police non-emergency line almost on a daily basis due to drug dealing.”
Another Pacific Beach resident, David Thomas, who lives a couple of blocks from the library and its park, agreed the time may have come to address the homeless issue more intensely.
“While I understand a sizable number of homeless people have no other options as far as living conditions at the moment, I’m rather surprised they are allowed to congregate on the library grounds (grass and sidewalk) areas, especially across the street from a daycare with little kids,” Thomas said.
“While I’m sure the majority of homeless on the library grounds are harmless, it doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture of Pacific Beach when residents and visitors show up at the library and see sleeping bags, shopping carts and so forth all over the place,” he said. “In an ideal world, there would be a central location for homeless to gather to get food, shelter and the help they need to get back into society.”
Noting “police have been amazing in listening to our concerns,” Teran said Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and Northern Division Capt. Jerry Hara have implemented a “Quality of Life Team” to help with the problem.
Hara said a team of three officers was dispatched Oct. 9 to do a transient sweep in Pacific Beach, which culminated in six misdemeanor arrests.
“One misdemeanor arrest for illegal lodging was a business complaint at 2830 Garnet Ave. in an industrial complex recently renovated to invite new businesses,” Hara said. “We received a letter of agency (permission to access private property) because of a growing problem of transients overrunning the property. The owners were very appreciative of the quick police response.”
Hara said four other misdemeanor arrests were issued during that sweep for illegal lodging/trespassing/violations of court orders and possession of drug paraphernalia at the Pacific Beach Methodist Church at 1561 Thomas Ave.
“There was one other misdemeanor arrest of a 17-year-old girl for daytime loitering and resisting police during selective enforcement of a canyon area involved with illegal lodging and drug activity,” Hara said. “Officers located a male and female off Pocahontas and Ogalala avenues. When the subjects saw us, they fled up the canyon. We captured the girl, but the male fled.”
Hara said the girl turned out to be a methamphetamine user meeting her juvenile boyfriend in the canyon for possible drug-related activity.
“Her parents were notified and she was returned home,” Hara said.
Teran said she understands the magnitude of trying to police transients in public places.
“The growing problem with homelessness at the Pacific Beach library park and elsewhere cannot be solely managed by police,” Teran said. “A policing strategy has been used to attempt to control bad behavior on Garnet, and it’s like herding cats. The police are doing the best they can, but it is not up to them to solve this library problem.”
Michelle Clark, the youth services librarian at the Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library, said the facility has a “whole list of rules” on appropriate conduct — both inside and outside the building.
“People during the day are allowed to be on the lawn,” Clark said. “They can lie down and take a nap. But they can’t be covered up; no sleeping bags or tents. There’s no camping. That’s against our policy.”
Asked whether the library grounds was an attractive nuisance for transients, Clark replied, “Sure, it’s a great place to be with the beautiful park, whether the people are homeless or not.”
Clark said the library does have a security guard who patrols, adding the facility is open varying hours every day but Sunday.
Teran said she is convinced there isn’t one solution for homelessness at the Pacific Beach library, park and elsewhere.
“We have to look at this problem from many angles,” she said, adding a recent meeting was held involving neighbors, the library’s manager and her supervisor, police representatives, the neighborhood prosecutor and the District 2 City Council’s office.
“The purpose of the meeting was to gather ideas and look at short- and long-term solutions,” Teran said. “We are looking at lighting, sprinkler timing and changing the landscaping, even having exercise classes out on the lawn at certain times of the day, The library and its park have a great potential to create a sense of community. I welcome any ideas or suggestions addressing these problems.”
Teran can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.