Lines of tents occupied the sidewalks alongside the old Central Library early Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

The city is quietly preparing to turn part of the long-vacant old Central Library into a homeless shelter.

For nine years, the former downtown library has sat empty. For much of that time, advocates have questioned whether the building often surrounded by homeless camps could become a shelter.  

The city is now setting the stage to make that happen.

“Thanks to the mayor’s leadership and persistence, we are now in a place where we can begin initial work to repurpose a portion of the building for shelter,” Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for Mayor Todd Gloria, wrote in an email.

Laing said the hope is that the city can initially provide shelter at the old library when inclement weather arises this winter and eventually make it a permanent shelter. She did not elaborate on the specific work being done on the building, but said the city is “doing some very modest preparations” to pave the way to repurpose the building.

City work crews arrived at the old Central Library early on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 to continue initial work on the building that has been shuttered since 2013. The city now wants to convert the old library into a homeless shelter. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

Gloria last year directed city officials to assess several city buildings including the old library to see if they could shelter homeless residents. This March, city attorneys filed a court action to try to clear an 1899 deed restriction that had complicated plans to redevelop the library.

An initial Superior Court hearing over a little-known requirement that seems to mandate that the property house a public library and reading room is set for next month.

Gloria’s office previously said the city didn’t believe the language in the 1899 deed signed by civic leader George Marston should restrict its use of the site, but that it wanted the court to formally bless that conclusion before it proceeds.

Laing said Gloria recently directed city staff to take steps to prepare so the city can move quickly if it gets a favorable court ruling.

“We feel confident enough that we can at least start preparing for ultimately getting that cleared,” Laing said.

Early Friday, several city workers gathered to resume work inside the building.

Public restrooms stationed near the building’s entrance that serve the dozens of homeless residents in the blocks surrounding the library for now remain there.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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  1. Perfect! I do hope questions about administering it will be answered soon.
    I well remember using that library back when I worked downtown. It was warm in the Winter, and dry on rainy days. People were Reading!

  2. How about including a reading room and library services/internet in the shelter plan? (And funding.) I’m sure SDPL staff already know what information and services their unhoused patrons seek & need the most, and George Marston wasn’t all wrong about libraries for the people.

  3. The building, as determined by past inspections, is full of asbestos.
    That’s all got to be removed for human occupation to be safe.

    1. That is great news. Pack as many homeless garbage people into that building and disturb that asbestos so that it flies through the air like smoke. We will get rid of hundreds of our problems that way.

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