SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Benches originally installed in Harvey Milk Plaza to encourage people to gather and create community in the Castro District were removed Friday to discourage a small number of homeless nomads who regularly slept there, city officials said.

The roving backpackers were roused from the alcoves above the Muni station at 7 a.m. and the benches were carted away.

“Nobody likes removing public seating, myself included, but the situation at the plaza had become completely out of control,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener.

For months, pedestrians complained they got shoved and called names as they walked the gauntlet of benches taken over by a homeless encampment, said Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro-Upper Market Community Benefit District.

“There was a real consensus in the neighborhood that it was unacceptable,” she said.

But not among homeless advocates, said Jodi Schwartz, executive director of gay youth organization LYRIC, who saw the situation as an opportunity to discuss possibilities for helping the homeless drawn to the neighborhood.

“This is all of our community, and I just feel like Community Benefit District and the supervisor are just going in the wrong direction,” Schwartz said.

The homeless group often lingered throughout the day on the benches and in front of empty store fronts on 18th Street, getting high or drunk and putting a scare into residents and shoppers.

With the benches gone, the results were almost immediate. Friday morning, the problem area in the plaza was empty and there was no aggressive panhandling at the corner of Castro and Market streets.

“The hope is that it will become more of a walkway for the neighborhood and less of a gathering spot leading to some pretty awful behavior,” Wiener said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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