Troubled Public Plaza Will Be Fenced Off To Divert Homeless

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Plans for installing a fence around McCoppin Hub, a public plaza that has become a hangout for some of the city’s homeless, are underway with construction set to begin as early as next month.

In a collaboration between various city agencies including Public Works and the Department of Public Health, a contractor is expected to deliver a final proposal and the projected costs on Friday,  according to John Gavin of the Real Estate Division, the city agency that currently manages the Hub located where Valencia and McCoppin streets meet.

The project would take about three months to complete and involve removing some of the Hub’s blocks and chains, installing a fence and two gates for vehicles to enter and three gates for people to enter, said John Thomas, division manager at Public Works.

Hours of access to the Hub will be determined by the Division, but would likely “mirror the dog and skate parks that are across the street – essentially 7 a.m. to sunset,” said Thomas.  

Since its 2014 revitalization from a dead-end into a multi-purpose event plaza, McCoppin Hub has become a point of contention in a larger debate of how the city should address its population of roughly 7,000 homeless. Immediately after the renovation, the Hub became a place for the homeless to hang out and quickly became a thorn in the side of many neighbors.

“A fence isn’t going to help the homeless, and it isn’t going to help anybody else,” said Christopher Lloyd, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an organization that promotes LGBT rights.

The fence, said Lloyd, would only serve to further criminalize the homeless, and the lack of access would discourage others from using it as well. “A fence means that nobody can use it.”

Rendering of one option for fencing McCoppin Hub Plaza. The fence's final design has not yet been finalized. Image courtesy of San Francisco Public Works

Rendering of one option for fencing McCoppin Hub Plaza. The fence’s design has not yet been finalized. Image courtesy of San Francisco Public Works

Beautified with the intention of hosting public events and food trucks, neighbors instead report that the Hub has stood empty for months and is used mainly by the homeless, who they say loiter, use drugs, vandalize the plaza and intimidate them.

“The city ignored it for years, and now it’s become a sanctuary for illegal activity,” said David Coons, a tech worker who has lived in the city for some 30 years and said he’s watched the problems at McCoppin grow out of control.

Coons, who has been documenting conditions at the Hub since it was revitalized, shared a video in which the property of homeless individuals can be seen strewn across the plaza, but said the problem is more serious than that.

“I’ve been chased away with a bat and an open needle,” he said.

Some 100 people showed up to a community meeting held last year by Supervisor Jane Kim, who oversees the district where the Hub is located, to brainstorm solutions and were promised the fence.

“Putting a fence there allows [change in usage] where it can be controlled and open as an actual community space,” said Coons, suggesting alternate uses such as a for hosting food trucks or a community garden.  “Anything other than a place to loiter, shoot heroin or camp out.”

But Susan Parker, a neighbor, explained that plans to host food trucks at McCoppin never panned out – despite special modifications to the plaza that would allow them to operate there, including ramps. 

“City reps started pushing for a paved plaza that could be used to park food trucks for Off the Grid events,” recalled Parker. “Unfortunately during the construction period, Off The Grid discovered more profitable locations.”

The plaza was temporarily fenced in April 2015 for repairs, which provided some relief, she said.

“With a permanently closed/locked fence, people causing trouble could move to the sidewalk but police would be able to enforce sit-lie,” Parker wrote in an email.

Kim seemed to agree and supported the solution of fencing off the Hub. 

“Jane got funding secured this year for [the] fence and our office has been pushing hard to get it done,” said Ivy Lee, legislative aide to Kim.

But the idea of “fencing off” the homeless didn’t sit well with everyone. Bilal Ali, human rights activist with the Coalition on Homelessness, said that he is “disgusted” with the city’s move to take away “viable, available space for people to sit and rest.”

Doing these activities on the sidewalk would be illegal he said, and public spaces like the Hub provide a “refuge” for the homeless.

Lloyd, the activist, reacted by launching a petition to “save unrestricted, public access to the Hub.”

“I was ticked off, not because I didn’t agree that there is a problem with some of the ways that people treat it, but because of the way [people have] tried to solve the problem,” said Lloyd, who is formerly homeless.

With the intention of presenting the petition to Kim, Lloyd has gained some 1,000 supporters. He also vowed to camp out in front of the fence should the city move forward with construction plans, and still stands by that threat.

“To build a fence to keep a certain segment of people out, it’s just wrong in my view,” he said.

Lynn Valente, director of People in Plazas, a city organization that in 2015 was in charge of the Hub’s programming, echoed this notion and said that she was disappointed at the lack of “community buy in” that she experienced while hosting events there.

“Everybody is complaining but no one is part of the solution,” she said.
“Sometimes it was dirty, but we found that for the most part, when we had events, people moved,” she said about its homeless users. “They respected our events.”

Hat tip to blogger Michael Petrelis for filing and publishing a records request that showed the fence project was moving forward. You can see his follow up here.

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8 Comments

  1. Bob Evans

    Millions for bum pit stops, alleged “progressives” are truly false prophets !

  2. Dan Robinson

    I live 2 blocks from the McCoppin Hub and I am strongly against fencing it off. The hub is currently a nice public space. There are occasional problems with trash (like in most public spaces in the city) but for the most part what I see is people using the Hub exactly as its intended to be used: sitting there enjoying the sunshine in a public plaza!

    The people that are complaining seem to be concerned that it’s the wrong type of people using the Hub. To me it looks like my neighbors are enjoying a public space. I have never thought of it as a hangout for the homeless, although I guess some folks there may be homeless. A much bigger problem is the sidewalk on McCoppin across Valencia from the hub, which is frequently impassable because of tents and public sleeping – something I’ve rarely seen at the Hub because its layout discourages tents.

    A fence will make the Hub look like an inner city failure. The fence itself will destroy the open, public aesthetic and will do nothing to change the use of the plaza during the daytime, which apparently is the focus of the complaints.

    As a neighbor, a 20-year resident of SF who probably lives closer to the Hub than any of the complainers, I would be happy to lend my name and voice to the effort to stop the fence

  3. Georgio

    “David Coons, a tech worker”.

    Not sure it’s necessary to point out that he’s a “tech worker,” though Mission Local does like to point out “tech workers” in all of their posts. The implication is that he is here on the wave of gentrification. If he’s been here 30 years, he’s earned to right to not be labeled.

    Disclosure: I am not a tech worker, but I am a lawyer. Probably equally disliked. Saw a young white girl standing on 16th and valencia holding a sign reading “Get the F*ck out of the Mission techies and yuppies” (or something to that effect). She was not even born when I moved into the neighborhood.

    • Ricardo Ruiz

      That girl holding the sign is a soldier for peace and equality. Feels everyone is equal and desires respect. Not like you. Entitled racist. She’s more Mission then you’ll ever be. Take down walls and fences. Need more things to bring society together not tear apart.

  4. Thanks, Laura, for writing this terrific story giving a lotta folks space to weigh-in on the fence, getting a quote from Kim’s office and for acknowledging my requests for public records that renewed wider interest in the McCoppin Hub.

  5. Rick

    this space was best used when it was an undeveloped parking lot and space for food trucks. now it is littered and i’ve seen several midday IV drug users injecting, + mattresses, and garbage, i no longer walk the cut and instead walk to market and turn left to cross at octavia. too much sadness.
    and now it will be even sadder as a fenced dead zone.
    please bulldoze this mess and use the space for food trucks again. charge them rent with the money going to homeless initiatives or childhood obesity or youth athletics,
    maybe with a few raised beds and picnic tables?

  6. Raul

    “Feels everyone is equal and desires respect”
    “Feels everyone is equal and desires respect”
    “Need more things to bring society together not tear apart.”

    How can those statements be true about the same person who is holding a “Get the F*ck out of the Mission techies and yuppies” sign?

  7. How is this different from the Plaza in front of City Hall? People lie and sit and sleep there all day. It is in front of City Hall, not hiding behind a fence. Whatever goes on there should be ok for other neighborhoods.

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