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Phil Matier: Architecture Aims To Keep Homeless Away From San Francisco Buildings

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Metal rails installed on concrete planters outside a Safeway supermarket at Church and Market in San Francisco. (CBS)

Metal rails installed on concrete planters outside a Safeway supermarket at Church and Market in San Francisco. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Some people may call it cold or harsh, but building planners in San Francisco and across the Bay Area have employed several new design tactics to keep the homeless away. The architecture is very subtle, and unless you know where to look, you might even miss the new features.

Outside the Safeway on Market Street, spiked rails have been installed, with the message that this place is not for hanging around.

“I used to sit here but it’s kind of uncomfortable right now,” said Ryan Palmer.

Keith Redy, a longtime Safeway customer, said the homeless were taking over the area. “I don’t want to have to go through a mine field when I go to buy a box of milk or something, you know?”

And Safeway isn’t alone. Whether its city park benches designed to make it impossible to lie down, or rocks embedded in a doorway to make it uncomfortable to lay out a sleeping bag, handling the homeless is becoming an increasing part of San Francisco city architecture.

“You know we saw it when they did the Civic Center Courthouse where they put in stuff so people wouldn’t be able to sit on the ledge there,” said Jennifer Freidenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness. “They’ve taken all the seating out of UN Plaza.”

Brackets once installed to discourage skateboarders have been lengthened to keep people from lying down in plazas. In other places, businesses have put in flower boxes against their buildings. Giant planters have been placed in front of the Federal Reserve Building, after police cleared out the Occupy encampment that took over the corner for weeks.

“It’s a challenge. I don’t know that anybody is right or wrong,” said Bevan Dufty, director of San Francisco’s homeless program.

Sometimes it backfires. KPIX 5 saw a planter outside a coffee shop that became a bathroom in front of customers.

But two things are clear from this tour of the city. The homeless are as abundant as ever, and no matter how many obstacles go up, they just move on down the street and make do.

A man named Cody, who did not give his last name, told KPIX 5 “Yeah, it’s pretty safe during the day.” He said he sleeps in the tunnels at night.

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