Library rules target homeless, say rights commissioners FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 24 May 1998 10:48:24 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.mercurycenter.com:80/premium/local/docs/pahomeless20.htm
FWD  San Jose Mercury News - May 20, 1998


     LIBRARY CONDUCT ISSUE OF CONCERN

     NO SLEEPING: NEW RULES TARGET THE HOMELESS, CRITICS SAY

     By Deborah Kong - Mercury News Staff Writer


Palo Alto librarians may be doing more than hushing patrons if a draft list
of policies regulating public behavior in libraries -- including bans on
sleeping or sitting on furniture while wearing ``soiled'' clothing -- is
approved.

The draft was drawn up by a staff committee appointed by City Manager June
Fleming because ``facilities were at times being used in ways that
interfered with their intended missions and functions, resulting in
complaints from the public at large,'' according to a memo from Fleming to
the city's human relations commission. The committee focused on libraries
and will next turn to community centers and the civic center.

Library staff members have had problems with patrons who obstruct aisles,
monopolize materials and electronic equipment, eat food and make
intimidating comments to library staff, according to the memo.

But human relations commissioners who reviewed the proposal last week were
``not happy with the tone of the rules,'' said commissioner Eve Agiewich.
``They seemed to be targeting a certain segment of the population.''

Agiewich said she was particularly concerned about the rule banning
sleeping for all but children under 4, because her husband, who was
disabled, sometimes fell asleep at the library. The soiled-clothing
regulation seems ``odd and harsh,'' she said.

Commission Chairman Roy Blitzer said the group had a ``very productive
discussion. Our recommendation basically was to make (libraries) as
user-friendly . . . as possible,'' he said. ``We just wanted to be sure it
wasn't construed as singling out specific people or somehow giving a
negative message about who was wanted and who wasn't wanted.''

Audrey Seymour, senior executive assistant to Fleming, said the staff
worked with the city attorney to ensure the regulations don't infringe on
personal rights. The committee plans to incorporate the commission's
concerns and make changes to the draft, she said.

The city manager will then enact the regulations, and they will be filed in
the city clerk's office.

``I view the libraries as a welcoming place, really a neutral space where
we won't make a judgment about people,'' said Library Director Mary Jo
Levy. ``We're going to have some guidelines set up that say (you can't)
target this person.''

As for the no-sleeping rule, Levy said, ``we are not going to be around
just watching people like hawks and saying `no sleeping.' We are really
looking at people who stay here hour after hour and just lounge and sleep.''

The draft lists 18 examples of conduct that interferes with public access
to library services and could be grounds for removal, including:

Using restrooms for bathing, shaving, washing clothes or preparing food;

Soliciting funds from other patrons or staff;

Threatening staff or other patrons;

Posting election materials in improper areas;

Camping, running or riding skateboards on the premises;

Bringing an animal, bicycle or tricycle into the library.

``I would love to see it worked out so it was comfortable for everyone,''
said Mary Jean Place, president of the Friends of the Palo Alto Library
group. ``I'm not terribly big on making social rules personally, but not
everyone behaves as well as they might.''

And Daryl Ogden, executive director of a local homeless service group, said
the proposals sound legitimate. ``From a hygiene standpoint, from a
standpoint of children being in (the libraries), I think it all makes
sense.''

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