Homelessness in San Diego

City of San Diego Pushing to Convert Old Downtown Central Library Into Shelter

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There is mixed reaction to a plan by Mayor Todd Gloria to convert the old downtown Central Library into a homeless shelter.

The existing building on E Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue was built in 1954 but has been closed since 2013.

Last Friday, Gloria tweeted the city started the "legal process" necessary for the library's conversion. The reference has to do with an obscure 1899 grant deed that says the building can only be used as a public library and reading room.

The city is asking a judge to clear the way to convert the building into a shelter.

"The City does not believe the property’s use is restricted in any way by the language in the grant deed and will seek a court determination to confirm this prior to converting the site to a potential emergency shelter,” said David Rolland, Deputy Director of Communications for Mayor Gloria in an emailed statement to NBC 7.

But while the city is confident it will be able to move forward, there is some pushback from residents living near the site.

"We do not need another shelter. What we need is a solution to the plan that hasn’t been working so far,” said Tommy Turner, who has lived across the street from the old library building for four years.

Turner says there’s been an explosion of homeless encampments in the area over the years. He also says there have been even more homeless arriving since the city installed portable toilets outside of the old library several months ago.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Hallahan, president of the East Village Resident Group, says there’s already a concentration of shelters in the area.

“East Village desperately need to get people off the streets, but with services,” Hallahan said.

Hallahan says converting the old library into a shelter is not a good choice just because it’s a highly visible location.

But others have long advocated for the idea.

“Whatever can be done most quickly and cost-effectively to provide the highest number of immediate pathways off the streets, that’s the plan we’ll get behind,” said Drew Moser.

Moser is Executive Director of the Lucky Duck Foundation, which raises money for homelessness issues and advocates for the use of underused government-owned properties to address the problem.

His group has pushed for converting the old library building into a shelter since 2016.

"It can be really easy to say ‘No it can’t be done.’ But when you do that, you’re essentially saying, "You know what? It’s better that people just live on the streets and suffer out here,'” said Moser.

For now, there is no timeline on when any plan will be finalized.

“The city’s next step in safely transforming the Old Library into a shelter is to conduct an updated condition assessment and estimate the cost of the rehabilitation,” Rolland said.

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