SF Main Library Bathroom: 'Glory Hole' No More'
Funky bums, funky bums, funky bums, funky bums, funky bums, funky bums, get off our back! Snitch Joe Eskenazi cleans up Chronicle writer Nevius' bum beat – looking at that other Golden Gate bum park – the SF Main Library. Quotes from the long-suffering staff below. Thanks, Joe. -d2
Guess What? People Don’t Leave Their Warm Homes to Line Up Outside the Library
By Joe Eskenazi
For the past few weeks, C.W. Nevius has been the Chronicle’s “Homeless Here, Homeless There, Homeless Everywhere” columnist. So it was a bit odd that, in one of his latest columns, a feel-good paean to San Francisco’s hip new libraries, that he wrote glowingly about men and women lining up outside of libraries anticipating opening hour like Harry Potter fans awaiting a chance to get their mitts on 'The Deathly Hallows'
Who exactly does he think these people are?
“The people lining up? They’re all homeless, the majority of them,” said a library employee matter-of-factly. “Take a walk around any morning. You’ll see.”
He’s hardly alone in this assessment. A senior administrator at the Main Library told us that he’s noticed a sharp uptick in the number of homeless men and women patronizing the library in the past few weeks — since Nevius’ article about needles and homeless people run amok cajoled the City into shaking out Golden Gate Park.
Nevius’ omission is even more glaring when one takes into account how ubiquitous homeless people have long been at City libraries; writing about frequent library-goers and not mentioning transients would be like penning a story about Ed Jew and not mentioning his legal woes.
And this is not an anecdotal situation. One librarian told us that on cold or rainy days the majority of library patrons at the Main branch are likely homeless. Another employee added that around one-third of people signing up for library cards don’t have a home address.
Roberto Lombardi, the director of facilities at the Main branch, noted that “the library is a democratic institution” and belongs just as much to a homeless guy reading Road & Track as it does Gavin Newsom himself. And, certainly, most homeless people just want to read, surf the Internet and fill up the day. But there are incidents.
“If you work here eight hours a day, you are serving a number of people who are hostile,” says a library employee, citing “anti-social behavior, hygiene and aggressive people starting fights over computers.”
And it’s not just the main branch. A librarian told us that the Park branch (near Golden Gate park), Mission Bay, the Mission and even the Chinatown branch serve plenty of homeless clientele.
The library system, to its credit, is being proactive in its approach to this situation. In a personal first, Lombardi led me on a guided tour of a men’s room — specifically the dreaded ground-floor facility at the Main branch.
While it used to resemble the Black Hole of Calcutta, Lombardi points out that the once-claustrophobic lavatory has been opened up by removing a wall and lowering a partition. Also, for obvious reasons, high-powered exhaust fans have been placed in the ceiling while the toilet stall doors have been shortened to “discourage undesirable behavior” (a security guard told us that he once caught two men having sex in there, incidentally). Since the stall doors were lowered two months ago, complaints of “undesirable behavior” have been down.
In the 2006-07 fiscal year, the library budgeted $50,000 to train guards and staff to deal with unruly patrons and bring in workers from the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team.
Kathy Lawhun, the chief of the Main library, told us that SFHOT employees attempt to give referrals to homeless folks lining up outside the library as early as 7:30 a.m. and then return in the evening for a second shift. For the record, incidentally, Lawhun believes that 3/4 of the people waiting outside the library prior to its opening are homeless or very nearly so.
Finally, for the past decade or more, security guards have handed “shower coupons” to patrons “who smell so bad your eyes water” in the words of one guard. These papers enable the possessor to go shower and wash his or her clothes at a number of City locations.
A security guard told us that since he goes out of his way to not embarrass odiferous patrons when handing out shower coupons, he very rarely has to get confrontational.
He then excused himself hurriedly — a man with a knit cap and ragged clothing was yelling in the atrium and twirling about like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.”