Wanting a better sense of the state of the Hunt Branch Library grounds in the wake of an emergency vote to close the facility by the Library Board Thursday night, I drove there after work early Friday evening. Coincidentally, a Fullerton Police cruiser was also headed that way, just ahead of me. The addition of a well-used dog park has turned the concrete walkway to the library into a causeway for canines and their humans who use the park that now borders the elegant modernist structure.
One man walked his large pitbull on a leash outside of the dog park, on the library’s front lawn. A bedraggled looking fellow sat on the side steps, attracting the attention of the police. Far across the lawn, another person huddled almost completely out of site under a stack of blankets near the gate to the former Hunt-Wesson headquarters, now Grace Ministries property. No one else was anywhere near the library itself.
I walked around snapping pictures, then headed back, past the parked Fullerton Police cruiser I had seen arrive earlier. I walked toward the wide gap in the chain link fence that otherwise separates the Hunt from the adjacent railroad tracks. As I left the asphalt and crossed on to the dirt I saw that a sizable homeless encampment stretched in either direction along the fence line on the dirt side. A police officer followed me and asked for my ID. I asked if I was being detained. “Yes,” the officer replied, “you’re trespassing on railroad property,” then repeated his request for some identification and asked what I was doing there. I produced my driver’s license and explained that I was taking a look at the Hunt Branch, having heard the previous night that it had been closed. He checked over my ID, radioed in my name for whatever it is they look for when people in neckties go walking around railroad tracks near dozens of homeless people who aren’t sporting neckties on the same railroad property. “I’ve seen a lot of suicides,” he explained, saying that he knew other people there, but not me.
The officer said he was unaware of the library’s closure. I found this odd, since he had introduced himself as a homeless liaison officer, and the library building prominently features a “Fullerton Police Department, Hunt Branch Facility” sign on its front window. How was it that an FPD homeless liaison officer, who said he knew the people in the encampment, was not aware that the branch library would be closing? When the Chief of Police and the City Manager had been present at a meeting of the Library Board the night before where it was argued that the emergency closure was necessary because of a change in the size and behavior of the homeless people on the site?
The officer did say that the population of homeless people had sometimes doubled since the beginning of the year, although he didn’t think it was at its highest point at that moment. Without any prompting from me he mentioned the city of Anaheim in connection with the increase in homeless people near the Hunt Branch. He then suggested that I speak with a homeless man named Eddie, who he called from a nearby tent if I wanted to know more about the encampment.