Skip to main content

The new ‘main spot’ for drug dealing in SF: Outside the Main Library

A group of people gathers at night near a lit-up domed building, with a large abstract sculpture in the foreground.
Drug users and dealers gathered outside the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Library on Wednesday. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

As a nightly crowd of over 100 drug users and dealers gathered outside San Francisco’s Public Library’s Main Library on Wednesday, Ted Disbennett, a 36-year-old homeless man, thumbed to a page of his sci-fi novel, bookmarked with a strip of foil he uses to smoke fentanyl.

“There’s dragons that control the spaceships,” he said, explaining the book, Starshield by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. “And the wizards work for a news agency trying to find the ultimate truth.” 

Disbennett said he had spent the past few weeks outside the library near City Hall at night, often falling asleep by the front steps in his wheelchair. That night, by 10 p.m., music was blasting, fights were breaking out and drug dealers operated from the shadows as people sprawled across the sidewalks all around him.

Several smartly dressed pedestrians navigated the crowd with their heads down on their way toward Market Street. Some stopped to survey the crowd and say a few choice words. “Fucking ridiculous,” muttered one man.

Disbennett said he and others in the crowd around him had been forced from block to block and were in and out of jail since a multiagency drug crackdown began last May.

A man in a wheelchair and others sit outside a building labeled "LIBRARY" at night, suggesting urban homelessness.
Ted Disbennett has been sleeping outside the Main Library for a few weeks. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

“Everywhere else, they’re like, ‘Keep it moving, keep it moving,’” he lamented, while rocking back and forth in the wheelchair he’s using due to a hip infection. “I think it’s horrible.”

The library is just the most recent gathering place for San Francisco’s infamous illegal open-air drug market, which began at Seventh and Market streets before snaking west toward City Hall since the crackdown.

No one in the crowd knew why the police had so far turned a blind eye to the new spot. 

Outside a public library at night, with people gathered by the entrance and others lying on the pavement.
The scene outside San Franciso Public Library's Main Library on Wednesday night. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

“I don’t exactly know why it’s OK here,” said a 32-year-old drug user named Donald, who said he comes to the area for cheap fentanyl but refused to give his last name due to the nature of his lifestyle. “This is like the main spot now.”

The city’s librarians say such illicit activities have made it increasingly dangerous for them to carry out their jobs. During a rally on Tuesday, workers protested unsafe conditions, calling on the city to fund more security guards.

“There’s tension in the air when there is no trained security around to de-escalate situations,” Jessica Choy, a part-time librarian, said in a press release.

But a library spokesperson said security incidents are down 13.8% year over year as of February. Seven of the system’s 28 branches recorded zero incidents, and six had just one during that time.

People holding "FIX OUR CITY" signs at a public demonstration.
Library workers rally outside San Francisco Public Library, demanding security guards at all branches on Tuesday. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

The San Francisco Police Department has been intensifying enforcement at night around U.N. Plaza and other areas where illegal activity occurs, said the SFPD in a Thursday press release, announcing 42 arrests made the day before. The Mayor’s Office was contacted for comment but did not respond by publication time.

A drug dealer, who declined to give his name for obvious reasons, stood in the shadows of the library building at around 9 p.m. A mask covered his chin, and he wore a beanie pulled down to his eyebrows as he offered drugs to almost everyone who walked by. 

“Need something?” he called out.

He stood apart from a crowd of more than a dozen dealers working on the corner of Larkin and Grove streets.

The dealer said he used to work on other corners around the Tenderloin but had recently been arrested, forcing him to operate out of plain sight.

Some drug users in the crowd said the crackdown has made fentanyl harder to find, causing them to use it less frequently. Yet, overdose deaths continue to surge in San Francisco. A total of 199 people have lost their lives to drugs in the city during the first three months of 2024, according to preliminary data. A record 811 people fatally overdosed last year.

When asked why he was now working in front of the library, the dealer had a succinct answer:


David Sjostedt can be reached at