[Hpn] Suit over Worcester library limits prompts concerns for homeless

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Sun, 06 Aug 2006 19:09:19 -0400


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http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2006/08/06/suit_o=
ver_worcester_library_limits_prompts_concerns_for_homeless/?page=3Dfull

Suit over Worcester library limits prompts concerns for homeless

By Adam Gorlick, Associated Press Writer =20



August 6, 2006

WORCESTER, Mass. --Robert Bombard has always been a voracious reader. He =
worked at the city library as a teenager and was a volunteer there as an =
adult. Even when he served two years in jail on a drug charge, he did =
his time working in the lockup's library.

"I revere books," Bombard said. "I treat them very well. I wouldn't even =
put an open book down on the table because I don't want to hurt the =
binding."
So when Bombard went to check out more than two volumes after spending a =
day on the job at Worcester's main library branch last summer, he was =
shocked when they told him no.

"I was giving them 12 or 15 hours a week as a volunteer," Bombard said. =
"And when I wanted to take out more than two books, they said 'Oh, no -- =
you live at a shelter,' right in front of everybody. It made me feel =
like a second-class citizen."

Bombard, who now lives with his father, isn't the only one who's taken =
offense to the library's three-year-old policy allowing shelter =
residents to check out no more than two books at a time. Several =
complaints have led to a recently filed lawsuit against the library and =
the city, brought on behalf of three homeless people and two social =
service agencies by the Legal Assistance Corp. of Central Massachusetts =
and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Advocates for the homeless say the policy is just another example of how =
the city has resisted improving conditions for the homeless.

Penelope Johnson, the city's head librarian, said the policy was imposed =
because more and more items were not being returned by borrowers who =
could not be tracked down through a permanent address.

Because of the pending lawsuit, Johnson said she could not say how many =
items borrowed by homeless people were not returned. But she said the =
library's lending policy -- which lets people with a permanent address =
check out as many as 50 materials at a time -- was not intended to =
discriminate against the homeless.

"We are exploring ways to ensure that the borrowing policies are fair an =
equitable," Johnson said. "But we need a system that allows us to track =
and retrieve items."

John Reinstein, legal director for the ACLU in Massachusetts, said it's =
uncommon for libraries to develop policies that put restrictions on the =
homeless.

"To my knowledge, this is not a typical problem across the country," he =
said. "My experiences are that librarians are great people in making =
their facilities accessible to everyone."

Local advocates for the homeless say they're hopeful the library will =
change its policy and avoid hashing the case out in court. At the same =
time, some say the lawsuit highlights an ongoing problem with how the =
city treats the homeless.

"Our biggest concern is whether some of the city's policies are linked =
in a deliberate way against the homeless," said Grace Carmark, executive =
director of the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, which runs a =
transitional housing facility for homeless families and is one of the =
plaintiffs in the library lawsuit. "There's been a stereotyping of =
social service providers that has damaged what we're trying to do."

Many of the city's social woes aren't hidden. On any given day, homeless =
people and drug users spend hours hanging around the neighborhood of a =
Main Street homeless shelter not far from downtown.

Home to several colleges, including Worcester Polytechnic Institute and =
the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester has plans to =
redevelop its downtown and bolster its economy by attracting biomedical =
and bioengineering businesses.

But oftentimes, it's the city's hard luck that gets it noticed.

In 1999, six city firefighters died in a blaze at an abandoned warehouse =
that started when a homeless couple seeking shelter in the building =
knocked over a candle.

In an effort to address some of the city's problems, Mayor Timothy =
Murray appointed a task force to review the city's social services. The =
group released a report last year urging the providers to voluntarily =
notify officials and neighbors before starting a new program in a =
residential neighborhood.

But some of the social service providers say that policy is unfair -- =
and possibly illegal -- because it gives residents a chance to rally for =
keeping the facilities out of their neighborhoods.

Barbara Haller, a city councilor who was on the mayor's task force, said =
residents should have a say. She said the city -- not the social service =
providers -- should determine what services are needed and where they =
should be established.

"Nobody is going to argue against providing services for people who need =
them," Haller said. "But we need responsible siting. We need to make =
sure the right programs are going into the right neighborhoods, and the =
social service providers need to be a part of the neighborhood. They =
can't just take up space there."

Despite the friction between social service agencies and city officials, =
observers say Worcester is making strides to combat its homeless =
problem.

Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on =
Homelessness, said the city is close to joining more than 200 other =
communities across the country that have implemented plans to address =
homelessness over the next decade. The idea behind those 10-year plans =
is to involve city officials, business leaders and advocates in projects =
that will fight homelessness, he said.

"I've been encouraged by what I see as the city's commitment to the =
issue," Mangano said.

But the library's borrowing policy shows how much Worcester needs to =
create a better dialogue around homeless issues, he said.

"The homeless use libraries as sanctuaries. They spend time there and =
they want to read and borrow books like anyone else," Mangano said. "The =
appropriate way to respond to homelessness and libraries is to have =
policies that are based on individual people, not an entire =
subpopulation."



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<H1><A=20
href=3D"http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2006/08/0=
6/suit_over_worcester_library_limits_prompts_concerns_for_homeless/?page=3D=
full">http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2006/08/06/=
suit_over_worcester_library_limits_prompts_concerns_for_homeless/?page=3D=
full</A></H1>
<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<H1>Suit over Worcester library limits prompts concerns for =
homeless</H1>
<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<P class=3Dbyline><SPAN>By Adam Gorlick, Associated Press=20
Writer&nbsp;&nbsp;</SPAN></P>
<P class=3Dbyline><SPAN></SPAN>&nbsp;</P>
<P class=3Dbyline><SPAN></SPAN><SPAN class=3Ddate>August 6, =
2006</SPAN></P>
<DIV id=3DarticleGraphs>
<DIV id=3Dpage1>
<P><SPAN>WORCESTER, Mass.&nbsp;--</SPAN>Robert Bombard has always been a =

voracious reader. He worked at the city library as a teenager and was a=20
volunteer there as an adult. Even when he served two years in jail on a =
drug=20
charge, he did his time working in the lockup's library.</P>
<DIV id=3DarticleEmbed>
<DIV class=3Dembed id=3DarticleTools>"I revere books," Bombard said. "I =
treat them=20
very well. I wouldn't even put an open book down on the table because I =
don't=20
want to hurt the binding."</DIV></DIV>
<P>So when Bombard went to check out more than two volumes after =
spending a day=20
on the job at Worcester's main library branch last summer, he was =
shocked when=20
they told him no.</P>
<P>"I was giving them 12 or 15 hours a week as a volunteer," Bombard =
said. "And=20
when I wanted to take out more than two books, they said 'Oh, no -- you =
live at=20
a shelter,' right in front of everybody. It made me feel like a =
second-class=20
citizen."</P>
<P>Bombard, who now lives with his father, isn't the only one who's =
taken=20
offense to the library's three-year-old policy allowing shelter =
residents to=20
check out no more than two books at a time. Several complaints have led =
to a=20
recently filed lawsuit against the library and the city, brought on =
behalf of=20
three homeless people and two social service agencies by the Legal =
Assistance=20
Corp. of Central Massachusetts and the American Civil Liberties =
Union.</P>
<P>Advocates for the homeless say the policy is just another example of =
how the=20
city has resisted improving conditions for the homeless.</P>
<P>Penelope Johnson, the city's head librarian, said the policy was =
imposed=20
because more and more items were not being returned by borrowers who =
could not=20
be tracked down through a permanent address.</P>
<P>Because of the pending lawsuit, Johnson said she could not say how =
many items=20
borrowed by homeless people were not returned. But she said the =
library's=20
lending policy -- which lets people with a permanent address check out =
as many=20
as 50 materials at a time -- was not intended to discriminate against =
the=20
homeless.</P>
<P>"We are exploring ways to ensure that the borrowing policies are fair =
an=20
equitable," Johnson said. "But we need a system that allows us to track =
and=20
retrieve items."</P>
<P>John Reinstein, legal director for the ACLU in Massachusetts, said =
it's=20
uncommon for libraries to develop policies that put restrictions on the=20
homeless.</P>
<P>"To my knowledge, this is not a typical problem across the country," =
he said.=20
"My experiences are that librarians are great people in making their =
facilities=20
accessible to everyone."</P>
<P>Local advocates for the homeless say they're hopeful the library will =
change=20
its policy and avoid hashing the case out in court. At the same time, =
some say=20
the lawsuit highlights an ongoing problem with how the city treats the=20
homeless.</P></DIV>
<DIV id=3Dpage2>
<P>"Our biggest concern is whether some of the city's policies are =
linked in a=20
deliberate way against the homeless," said Grace Carmark, executive =
director of=20
the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, which runs a transitional =
housing=20
facility for homeless families and is one of the plaintiffs in the =
library=20
lawsuit. "There's been a stereotyping of social service providers that =
has=20
damaged what we're trying to do."</P>
<P>Many of the city's social woes aren't hidden. On any given day, =
homeless=20
people and drug users spend hours hanging around the neighborhood of a =
Main=20
Street homeless shelter not far from downtown.</P>
<P>Home to several colleges, including Worcester Polytechnic Institute =
and the=20
University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester has plans to =
redevelop its=20
downtown and bolster its economy by attracting biomedical and =
bioengineering=20
businesses.</P>
<P>But oftentimes, it's the city's hard luck that gets it noticed.</P>
<P>In 1999, six city firefighters died in a blaze at an abandoned =
warehouse that=20
started when a homeless couple seeking shelter in the building knocked =
over a=20
candle.</P>
<P>In an effort to address some of the city's problems, Mayor Timothy =
Murray=20
appointed a task force to review the city's social services. The group =
released=20
a report last year urging the providers to voluntarily notify officials =
and=20
neighbors before starting a new program in a residential =
neighborhood.</P>
<P>But some of the social service providers say that policy is unfair -- =
and=20
possibly illegal -- because it gives residents a chance to rally for =
keeping the=20
facilities out of their neighborhoods.</P>
<P>Barbara Haller, a city councilor who was on the mayor's task force, =
said=20
residents should have a say. She said the city -- not the social service =

providers -- should determine what services are needed and where they =
should be=20
established.</P>
<P>"Nobody is going to argue against providing services for people who =
need=20
them," Haller said. "But we need responsible siting. We need to make =
sure the=20
right programs are going into the right neighborhoods, and the social =
service=20
providers need to be a part of the neighborhood. They can't just take up =
space=20
there."</P>
<P>Despite the friction between social service agencies and city =
officials,=20
observers say Worcester is making strides to combat its homeless =
problem.</P>
<P>Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on =

Homelessness, said the city is close to joining more than 200 other =
communities=20
across the country that have implemented plans to address homelessness =
over the=20
next decade. The idea behind those 10-year plans is to involve city =
officials,=20
business leaders and advocates in projects that will fight homelessness, =
he=20
said.</P>
<P>"I've been encouraged by what I see as the city's commitment to the =
issue,"=20
Mangano said.</P>
<P>But the library's borrowing policy shows how much Worcester needs to =
create a=20
better dialogue around homeless issues, he said.</P>
<P>"The homeless use libraries as sanctuaries. They spend time there and =
they=20
want to read and borrow books like anyone else," Mangano said. "The =
appropriate=20
way to respond to homelessness and libraries is to have policies that =
are based=20
on individual people, not an entire subpopulation."<IMG class=3Dstoryend =
height=3D8=20
alt=3D""=20
src=3D"http://cache.boston.com/bonzai-fba/File-Based_Image_Resource/dingb=
at_story_end_icon.gif"=20
width=3D6 border=3D0></P></DIV></DIV></DIV>

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