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.”
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.”